‘Tell Us/Ask Us’: Experiences of Health and Care during Lockdown 2
Healthwatch in Sussex today launch a report based upon public feedback on health and care services during the second COVID-19 lockdown in November and December 2020.
Healthwatch in Sussex recognise that this report is being released at a time of extreme pressure for the NHS in Sussex due to high rates of COVID-19 infection and hospital admissions. We acknowledge all the NHS and others are doing in response and believe our report findings can contribute towards building a better health and care system for Sussex now the peak of the current crisis has passed.
During Lockdown 2, Healthwatch in Sussex launched a ‘Tell Us – Ask Us’ campaign to encourage and support members of the public to:
- Tell us about their experience of accessing health and care services during the lockdown, including when they chose not to access a service for any reason.
- Ask us for clarification on what they can and can’t do during lockdown, including accessing health and care services where guidance is not clear or accessible.
Key themes and issues:
Quality of care
Once people secured an appointment or used a service, they received high quality, professional and responsive care. A minority of people experienced anxiety and a reluctance to access services due to concerns over transmission of COVID-19. Infection prevention and control precautions were not always clearly identified.
Information provided to the public did not always keep pace with changes being made to services. This raised levels of anxiety when they were already high. Mixed messages were found on which services were available and how to access them. Sometimes information lacked the level of detail required. Websites and out-of-hours phone messages were often out-of-date or did not provide the information required, especially those provided by dental practices and GPs.
GP comments were the most numerous and broadly positive once patients had accessed services. Many patients struggled to obtain timely appointments and access to GP appointments were challenging for many, with delays commonly reported. In extreme cases, patients reported over 100 calls to get through to a receptionist.
GP preferences for phone and video appointments caused anxiety for people with Autism, learning difficulties and those unfamiliar with the technology.
Access to NHS Dentistry was very challenging for a significant proportion of patients. Feedback indicated a lack of dentists accepting new NHS patients, long delays for appointments and emergency treatment and patients removed from client lists without their knowledge. Additional charges were made to cover PPE and there were perceptions of dentists prioritising private over NHS patients.
Most feedback was on Outpatient services, with a majority of patients positive about their treatment. Issues were identified on timely communication and follow-up. Some patients waited a long time for test results and appointments, creating anxiety.
Timely access to specialist support services, especially face-to-face contact for people with multiple or complex needs, were problematic in the lockdown. Demand for community support such as Food Banks continued to rise.
Care Homes and Carers
Key themes for Care Homes centred on the impact of visiting restrictions on both residents and their loved ones. The availability and cost of PPE was raised, as were the mental and physical effects on care home staff and carers.
Emotional and mental wellbeing
Feedback on mental wellness indicated raised anxiety for patients awaiting appointments, results or further treatment, as well as those seeking to access services. Challenges exist for everyone to maintain a positive work/home life balance, and for young people in responding to regular changes to their routine.
Queries on COVID-19 vaccines and the vaccination process mainly focused on how distribution would be prioritised and the likely timeframe for the rollout.
Response from Sussex NHS Commissioners
We have and will continue to share the feedback captured in this report with the NHS, local authorities, voluntary sector and other providers to help them understand where things are working well and to identify any gaps.
The findings of this initiative were shared with Sussex NHS Commissioners who commented:
“We would like to thank Healthwatch in Sussex for this insight. The last year has been an unprecedented time for the NHS and it has been challenging in terms of the delivery of health and care services. It is encouraging to hear what has worked well but equally important to hear where we can do more to improve the patient experience.
We will continue to work with Healthwatch in Sussex in order to demonstrate how the issues they have highlighted are already being addressed, and are present in our ongoing plans to ensure that the population of Sussex continue to be able to access safe and appropriate care.”
Healthwatch in Sussex: Our responses
Healthwatch in Sussex has responded or is planning to respond to many of the issues identified through this process, and a summary of these activities includes:
Healthwatch has identified the need for clear and consistent messages on changes to health and care services within the Sussex Integrated Care System (ICS). We continue to provide feedback at a strategic level, as well as to individual commissioners and service providers, both to indicate effectiveness and where improvements may be required.
Feedback on the increasing shift to remote and digital access during the pandemic has been a focus of Healthwatch interest. Our report on people’s preferences after the first lockdown provides the foundation for ongoing enquiry into experiences of these changes.
Healthwatch in Sussex regularly share our feedback with local hospital Trusts. Two programmes of work undertook wellbeing checks and captured feedback from discharged patients during lockdown, identifying issues with communications and follow-up support. A further enquiry into experiences of hospital and discharge in Sussex is planned.
Issues with access to dentistry have been recorded throughout the pandemic, and Healthwatch in Sussex have escalated their concerns by sharing them with both the local health and care system, as well as with Healthwatch England and NHS England.
Healthwatch is consistently monitoring feedback on GP services. Where significant concerns arise, issues are escalated with providers, commissioners and watchdogs. Key areas of investigation undertaken by Healthwatch recently include ‘Mystery Shopping’ of practice websites and ‘Out-of-Hours’ phone messaging to assess the quality of information and signposting provided to patients and the public.
A ‘Staying Connected’ Webinar was held in November to explore the issue of contact between care home residents and their loved ones. The subsequent report identifies recommendations and has been shared with local stakeholders and decision-makers.
COVID-19 Vaccination programme
Healthwatch is working with Sussex NHS Commissioners to help communicate the vaccination process to the public, respond to queries and construct local frequently asked questions (FAQs). Further work will be undertaken to capture public experiences.
If you have any questions or wish to leave feedback on health or care services that you have used, then please get in touch with your local Healthwatch using the details below:
Healthwatch Brighton & Hove
Telephone: 01273 234 040
Healthwatch East Sussex
Telephone: 0333 101 4007
Healthwatch West Sussex
Telephone: 0300 012 0122