The Community Engagement directorate was due to launch at the beginning of April – but then COVID-19 happened. Lynsey Cleland, Director of Community Engagement, explains how they moved the directorate’s whole focus in a different direction, but with people still at the heart of their work.
When the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, it looked like the planned April launch of Healthcare Improvement Scotland – Community Engagement (the new name for the Scottish Health Council) might be forced into quarantine until the pandemic had subsided – all those plans for the launch and the new work programme suddenly having to be put on hold.
In a way, of course, that’s exactly what happened. The launch took place, but much of the work programme for the new directorate was paused. But community engagement is important at all times, no less in a national response to a new and life-threatening virus.
Bringing the new directorate together
Within our directorate we quickly found the importance of our own community. We all had to work together to refocus our attention, we needed to be there for each other, to listen, to seek to understand, and to find a way forward that would be effective for each individual while meeting the increasing and changing needs of the health and care service.
We’ve adapted, we’ve seized opportunities to make a difference, and we’ve worked together in fantastic ways that will serve us well for the future.
Supporting volunteers and the third sector
When the call went out for volunteers to be mobilised to help the health and care service, we knew that our Volunteering in NHSScotland Programme team would be exceptionally busy.
Over the last couple of months, this small team has provided dedicated advice and support to NHS volunteer managers, including reinforcing the duty of care NHS Boards have to volunteers, producing specific guidance for volunteer managers on the recruitment and developing roles of volunteers during the pandemic, and running virtual meetings and webinars to support Boards on a wide range of volunteering issues.
The team have also worked with NHS Education for Scotland to produce an online induction scheme for volunteers which launched in April and is supporting quicker deployment of NHS volunteers.
We’ve also had our own staff both volunteering and deployed across the NHS in Scotland to aid the COVID-19 response, and we’re immensely proud of their efforts. A number of colleagues have been using their skills to help train newly-recruited NHS24 call handlers, while others are providing a range of local support within their communities.
Helping those who are digitally excluded
Our directorate has also been working with Scottish Government, SCVO (Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisation) and other third sector organisations to support the digital inclusion project Connecting Scotland. This project aims to identify individuals who are most vulnerable and digitally excluded across the country and provide them with a device that enables access to the internet to aid their connection with loved ones and with sources of support within their communities. This project has the power to completely transform care and access to information across Scotland.
“We’re beginning a scoping exercise to understand the current demand for virtual visiting across Scotland, taking into account access and equality issues, establish the infrastructure requirements currently available to support virtual visiting, and gather and share good practice on existing virtual visiting approaches. Nationwide, this will help inform virtual visiting services across wards and in-patient facilities.”
To aid this crucial project, we’ve used our network of local connections across Scotland to identify community groups able to provide training and ongoing support to the individuals who receive devices.
Visiting to all hospital wards has been suspended except in end-of-life and other exceptional circumstances – this has meant many patients have no access to family, friends and loved ones throughout their stay in hospital.
Some NHS boards have introduced virtual visiting to assist patients to keep in touch with loved ones, but the picture across Scotland is varied. We’re beginning a scoping exercise to understand the current demand for virtual visiting across Scotland, taking into account access and equality issues, establish the infrastructure requirements currently available to support virtual visiting, and gather and share good practice on existing virtual visiting approaches. Nationwide, this will help inform virtual visiting services across wards and in-patient facilities.
The importance of equality and compassion during the pandemic
Our Public Involvement Unit has supported the development of a range of equality impact assessment including the national shielding programme; person-centred care learning system and virtual visiting, while also compiling a response to the Equalities and Human Rights Committee call for evidence to understand the impact of the pandemic on equalities and human rights.
In addition, we’ve worked with colleagues from our ihub as we capture and promote examples of good practice in person-centred care in the acute sector during COVID-19 restrictions. This work is supporting a learning system to enable staff working in health and social care to learn from each other. This is now being rolled out to include all sectors of health and care service. We will also be working with health and care staff to understand their needs from this learning system; what they would like next from this learning system and what their experiences have been in providing person-centred care during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our response is varied and meaningful and I can’t thank our team enough for the way they’ve risen to the challenge of COVID-19.
Engagement as we come out of lockdown
Looking to the future as we gradually come out of lockdown, there are certain things that we cannot lose sight of – most importantly, the impact on people and communities of the dramatic changes that we’ve seen this far in the national response.
In many ways, health and care has been transformed during this crisis. As consideration is given to how some of these changes could be taken forward as part of future services, and thought given to what further changes are required to the way services are designed and delivered, it’s imperative that there is meaningful and inclusive engagement with the people and communities using these services.
There is a need to understand how these changes have affected people and communities, including vulnerable and marginalised groups, and ensure that all people’s views shape future service design and delivery. We will therefore be looking to use our local reach and national presence during the next phase of the COVID-response to develop and share good practice to engage differently and support people to get involved in decisions about the services that matter most to them.
“In many ways, health and care has been transformed during this crisis. As consideration is given to how some of these changes could be taken forward as part of future services, and thought given to what further changes are required to the way services are designed and delivered, it’s imperative that there is meaningful and inclusive engagement with the people and communities using these services.”
COVID-19 has transformed life for everyone. Far from being put on hold, HIS Community Engagement is in full swing and I’m proud that it’s already setting out to achieve its goals, even though much of the work programme will be different for the foreseeable future. I’m proud of how the community of our new directorate has responded and I believe we are well placed to provide support to communities and health and care services across Scotland in the months and years to come.
Lynsey Cleland is Director of Healthcare Improvement Scotland – Community Engagement.