Independent watchdog Healthwatch reveals true impact on residents from pandemic
A report released this week by independent local health and social care champion Healthwatch has revealed the impact the COVID-19 outbreak has had on the mental health and wellbeing of local residents.
During the pandemic Healthwatch in Devon, Plymouth and Torbay – who now work in partnership following new joint commissioning arrangements with Devon County Council, Plymouth City Council and Torbay Council - have worked together with local providers, stakeholders and communities to ensure the public have access to clear and accurate information and advice about healthcare services.
Healthwatch also joined up with the Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England to gather feedback from local people about their needs and experiences in relation to COVID-19, and other services that relate to patient safety.
Healthwatch have now released a detailed report of this engagement with local people across the wider Devon area and their experiences using health and care services during lockdown which lasted more than three months.
During May and June, Healthwatch carried out engagement with hundreds of local people via online surveys, virtual Zoom meetings and local service user stories illustrating their own experience. The engagement aimed to give local people a voice to inform the planning process for future community wellbeing and resilience with the Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England.
The report - available to read in full on any of the Healthwatch Devon, Plymouth and Torbay websites - found that:
· Community-based support in the form of volunteering and third sector user-led support organisations was particularly valued by local people.
· Young carers were especially challenged, with school closures and the uncertainty of future employment and education adding to the anxiety and stress.
· The “Digital divide” and the innovation needed to maintain personalised health and social care communication rose in importance throughout the engagement. Local traditional signposting did not have the same impact to reach those in need.
· The mental health and wellbeing of everyone and in every aspect of future life became of great concern. Frequently mentioned contributing factors included: Access to green (and blue) spaces; normal friend and family networking; fear of the impact of cancelled health appointments and their unknown reinstatement; loss of contact with community-based mental health teams; the difficulty in maintaining family contact for those in hospital; school closure at a critical time for child development; and family stress.
Pat Harris, Strategic Lead for Healthwatch in Devon, Plymouth and Torbay, said: “We know this is an extremely difficult time for all, particularly for local healthcare services and the NHS, who are working tremendously, but with essential services facing unprecedented challenges, it is really important that we as the consumer champion for health and social care services continue to listen to the community and share feedback with our stakeholders on what is working well or not so well and what may need addressing.
“I would like to thank everybody involved in the production of this report for their hard work engaging with local people and gathering their feedback.
“We look forward to seeing how the Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England use your feedback to inform their planning process for future community wellbeing services.
“Here at Healthwatch in Devon, Plymouth and Torbay we will continue working with local voluntary, community, and statutory partners to provide up-to-date health information and advice in order to help protect the public, our staff, volunteers, service users, clients and visitors.”
Although Governmental guidelines have led to the cancellation of face-to-face engagement events in order to limit social contact, local Healthwatch in Devon, Plymouth and Torbay are still receiving public feedback about the health and social care services being used at this difficult time. To raise a concern or share your experience, call free during working hours on 0800 520 0640 or review a service online via any of the Healthwatch Devon, Plymouth or Torbay websites.