Each month, thousands of people share their experiences with Healthwatch about NHS and social care services. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this has ranged from the affect lockdown has had on carers, to the problems getting emergency dental treatment.
In their briefing, they outline the issues over 19,700 people raised, as well as taking an in-depth look at how technology has been used in response to the pandemic.
The impact of COVID-19
At the start of lockdown, people told us how the measures introduced to help control the spread of coronavirus were affecting their care.
- Changes to routine and planned care - In many cases, people were unable to find the information they needed to understand what they should expect from services and were unclear about what the next steps for their treatment or care would be - leaving them feeling stressed and frustrated.
- Shielding measures - Those who were shielding told us about problems in getting transport to their hospital care. For some people, the cost of attending one or more hospital appointments was too expensive to arrange private transport, especially if the hospital was far from home.
- Access to prescription medicines - Initially people were struggling to get through to their GP or pharmacy by phone, and others experienced delays in getting their medication. This caused anxiety for people running out of supplies, particularly for those with long term conditions.
What can services learn?
- People need clear, accurate and consistent information about their care and the services they use.
- People’s experiences of hospital appointments do not start and end at the hospital doors - their journey begins at home, so transport arrangements must be considered.
Lockdown begins to ease
As lockdown restrictions began to reduce, we started to hear new concerns from people.
- Worries about the future - People raised questions with us about how services can reopen safely, reported problems using services that are supposedly already open for business and expressed frustration at some NHS services being slow to reopen compared to other areas of the economy.
- Testing for COVID-19 - While some people found visiting a testing centre easy, we also heard that the online booking process was difficult to use and there were concerns about the accessibility of testing centres.
What have people been telling us throughout?
- Lack of accessible information - Throughout the pandemic, we have heard about the difficulties of finding up-to-date information in the languages or formats people need – especially when advice from the Government was frequently changing.
- Emergency dental care - People did not know how to access emergency dental care - causing them extra stress while experiencing acute dental pain or other symptoms. Many others have felt they have no option but to go private if they want to receive treatment for what their dentist considered to be non-emergency treatment.
- Access to B12 injections - Although some people received injections, either as normal or at a different GP practice, we also heard that in many areas there was an inconsistent approach to providing this treatment.
- Care homes - People’s feedback highlighted that while family and friends were unable to visit their loved ones in care homes, timely and regular communication from care home staff really mattered.
- The hidden effect on families and carers - The lack of respite has left many carers feeling stressed, isolated and forgotten about. We also heard about the difficulties some people faced helping the person that they care for to understand and remember the lockdown measures.
- Praise for health and social care workers - Throughout the pandemic, we have heard about how much people appreciate the hard work of health and social care professionals during this time of unprecedented challenges.
- The impact on people’s mental health - Since the start of lockdown, we have heard about the effects of the pandemic on people’s mental health and wellbeing. For some people, the changes to the services they would usually access have left them feeling abandoned – with infrequent telephone appointments not meeting their needs.
What can services learn?
- Accessible information and meeting people’s communication needs must be considered from the start and should not be an afterthought. The information must also be shared through trusted sources, such as community centres and groups.
- Families and carers have been providing even more care than usual during the pandemic - but this often goes unnoticed, and many need more support.
- Good communications between care homes staff residents and their family and friends is key, especially while visiting restrictions are in place. Where appropriate, this should include involving residents’ families or next of kin in decision making about their care.
- The mental health impacts of the pandemic are affecting both existing service users and non-service users. Mental health services will require investment to support people in both the short and long-term.
The pandemic has seen the digitisation of many health and social care services overnight. While digital appointments don’t work for everyone, and services should not be exclusively digital, it’s important healthcare services embrace technology for those who find it an efficient way to communicate. Our recent work in this area demonstrates how services are embracing this shift to digital healthcare:
Read the full briefing to find out what we can learn from the rapid roll-out of virtual NHS consultations, and the importance of involving patients from the start when setting up new services.
Read the report
Between April and June 2020, over 19,700 people shared their experiences of using health and social care with the Healthwatch network. This briefing outlines what we have heard over the last three months and what services can learn from people’s feedback.