Healthwatch East Sussex COVID-19 Surveys 2020: One year on
As we pass the first anniversary of the first COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020, Healthwatch East Sussex is publishing full results from our two surveys that ran in May and June 2020.
Numerical and summary results were published in 2020 but this is the first time we have published results from both surveys together that incorporate analysis of the many thousands of comments we received.
Our two surveys captured the experiences of residents in East Sussex, one for adults, the other for those aged 11 and 18. Both contained the same core questions to find out how people were affected by the pandemic. 1,200 adults and nearly a thousand young people provide insight on the impacts that the first lockdown that still resonate one year on as we start to emerge from lockdown number three.
Our findings demonstrate that a large majority of the population of East Sussex showed remarkable resilience in extraordinary circumstances. However, complex and conflicting messages increased public anxiety and concern. A big driver of anxiety was the ‘unknown’, how long would the pandemic last? When would normality resume?
The first lockdown had a big impact on vulnerable people and those with medical conditions. Children and young people saw a breaking of their daily routine and disruption of their social networks. The importance of human contact, so often taken for granted in our increasingly digital world, was highlighted as an irreplaceable component of people’s lives.
Many people with concerns about their physical or mental wellbeing did not take steps to get help. People wanted to take pressure off health and care services or did not know where to get support. Some conditions may have worsened due to the lack of an early interventions.
The pandemic has led to an accelerated rollout of remote and virtual access to services. Increased efficiency has resulted but there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach that can be adopted. Choice remains a key preference for the public, especially those aged 18 or younger, who have indicated a stronger preference for face-to-face services than adults.
Positive benefits of lockdown were identified by some, many families spent more time together and both adults and young people saw this as a benefit. Some people had more opportunity to engage in hobbies, activities and new interests.
Lockdown saw help being provided to those who were shielding, vulnerable or challenged to access food and day-to-day essentials. This highlights the invaluable role of volunteers and community groups in a crisis.
Over the last nine months Healthwatch East Sussex has fed the learning captured in May and June 2020 into discussions with our health and care, statutory and voluntary sector partners to inform responses to the pandemic, and the future design and delivery of services.
In the second and third lockdowns, we used insight from our surveys to help health and care commissioners provide clear, transparent and accessible information to the public when changes were made to lockdown rules and service delivery. We also worked to provide advice and information directly to help people navigate the changes.
Our findings on the risks of people delaying appointments when needing help have contributed towards services remaining open and adapting to pandemic conditions. Our evidence has helped highlight where services were not working, such as dentistry and GP access, so that action could be taken, although some of these issues remain unresolved.
One of our most important recommendations that we are sharing with multiple services is the crucial need for statutory services to recognise the crucial role of parents, carers, family members and schools in communicating messages to children and young people. Whilst the use of technology, social media and websites is high amongst under-18s, distilling multiple or complex messages is often undertaken through conversations with adults.
The scale and significance of friends, family and carers in providing support to vulnerable people on a daily basis is becoming more widely recognised by service providers and our insight has helped make this happen. We will continue to convey this message.
Our future work will include using our evidence to make sure patient choice remains a key priority for the delivery of future health and care services. The needs and preferences of different groups, including for face-to-face engagement, should be recognised and understood by commissioners and providers.
Further investigation into the preferences of different gender, ethnic and demographic groups is needed to better understand the suitability of different communication tools to support different services. Our insight shows that a particular emphasis is needed to act upon the views of children and young people aged under-18. This may be particularly important in relation to COVID-19 vaccinations.
Since the surveys, we have also undertaken initiatives to learn more about some of the themes identified by respondents, such as dentistry, separation from care home residents and the use of virtual and remote appointments. This has helped expand our understanding and guide our responses.
We will continue to share our insight so that it can help services plan for recovery from COVID-19, such as how commissioners and service providers can prepare for increases in demand, but also how they seek to adapt to changing preferences.