COVID-19 – What people are telling Healthwatch

Each month, thousands of people share their experiences with the Healthwatch network about NHS and social care services. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this has ranged from the effect lockdown has had on carers, to problems getting emergency dental treatment. Almost 20,000 people contributed to this report, compiled by Healthwatch England, which highlights the impact of COVID-19 and what it has meant for people across the country. Some of the key findings are summarised below:

Lockdown begins

At the start of lockdown, people described how the measures introduced to help control the spread of Coronavirus were affecting their care.

    1. 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.
    2. Shielding measures – Those who were shielding described 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.
    3. 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?

  1. People need clear, accurate and consistent information about their care and the services they use.
  2. 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, people began to express different concerns.

    1. Worries about the future – People raised questions 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.
    2. Testing for COVID-19 – While some people found visiting a testing centre easy, others reported that the online booking process was difficult to use and there were concerns about the accessibility of testing centres.
      What have people been telling Healthwatch throughout?
    3. Lack of accessible information – Throughout the pandemic, Healthwatch England 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.
    4. 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 felt they had no option but to go private if they wanted to receive treatment for what their dentist considered to be non-emergency treatment.
    5. Access to B12 injections – Although some people received injections, either as normal or at a different GP practice, it seemed in many areas there was an inconsistent approach to providing this treatment.
    6. 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.
    7. The hidden effect on families and carers – The lack of respite has left many carers feeling stressed, isolated and forgotten about. People also described the difficulties they faced helping the person that they care for to understand and remember the lockdown measures.
    8. Praise for health and social care workers – Throughout the pandemic, people have expressed great appreciation for the hard work of health and social care professionals during this time of unprecedented challenges.
    9. The impact on people’s mental health – Since the start of lockdown, people have described the effects of the pandemic on their mental health and well-being. 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?

  1. 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.
  2. Families and carers have been providing even more care than usual during the pandemic – but this often goes unnoticed, and many need more support.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Throughout the pandemic, Healthwatch Essex captured the stories and experiences of people living in Essex, in a series of short films which can be found here.