Engagement Officer Sara Firth's experiences during Covid-19

Our Engagement Officer, Sara Firth, tells us about her work experiences during Covid-19
Engagement Officer, Sara Firth

‘Before Covid-19 struck the majority of my engagement work was getting out and about across the district, and speaking to people face to face about their experience of using health and social care services. For example, I held Outreach and Information sessions in community centres and hospital café areas, represented Healthwatch Bradford and District at various local and regional health and social care conferences and attended local core Health and Social Care meetings/forums where we shared the intelligence and insight that we had gathered.

A completely new way of working

‘As a result of Covid-19 and the restrictions imposed, it fast became apparent that I would not be able to engage with people in the same way, and that I needed to quickly adopt and adapt to a completely new way of working, including the new concept of working from home!  Therefore during the first few weeks of Covid-19’s initial ‘lock-down’ I found myself setting up and getting used to working from home; including solving IT/Phone issues (yes, there were a few!), researching and signing up to virtual platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams and having those all-important discussions with managers about a new work plan.

‘I’m relieved to say that, despite the Covid-19 restrictions and thanks to the wonders of those virtual platforms, I have at least been able to carry on attending some of my core meetings and so continued to ‘feed in’ and share intelligence on what’s happening in local health and care provision with other key organisations across the district. These include: The Health and Well Being Forum (Bradford District Assembly), Airedale and Wharfedale Autism Resource (AWARE), The Women’s Health Network (Engaging People’s Project), The Trustwide Involvement Group (BDCFT) and the Transforming lives programme (Bradford Council). They are just a few examples of the forums and meetings I have attended over these past few months.

Helping the public distinguish real news from fake

‘One of the main functions of local Healthwatch is to provide information and advice to the public about accessing health and social care services and offer choice in relation to those services. From the very start of the pandemic I have tried to keep myself and my colleagues up-to-date on any changes being made to local health and social care provision as a result of Covid-19; this in itself has proved a huge task as things have been changing on a daily basis, and getting hold of the ‘right’ information as well as clarifying it has been quite time-consuming, as well as mentally draining. But it is really important that we at Healthwatch distinguish ‘real’ news from ‘fake’ and ensure that we get facts across to the public.

‘Patients and carers sometimes send us emails via our generic inbox, telling us about their experience of using services (info@healthwatchbradford.co.uk). This is great and we would really like to encourage more people to send their feedback in this way, particularly during current restrictions when, as an organisation, we cannot get out and about in the community.

‘We log all your (anonymised) enquiries/feedback on to our central database and this informs service commissioners of what is happening in health and care provision at a local level. By sharing this intelligence commissioners can see which services work well and which ones need improvement. This data also feeds into Healthwatch England’s national picture.

‘People also contact us when they need help to find a NHS Dentist or guidance on how to make a complaint about a service, etc. Although Healthwatch cannot allocate/make referrals for the public requiring particular NHS treatments, I can signpost to services and provide contact details of those who can, eg NHS Choices, GP Practice Managers, Patient and Carer Liaison services and the Independent Complaints Advocacy Team (ICAT).

Our survey on your experiences of health and care during Covid-19

‘During May, in the midst of the lockdown, we launched a survey asking the public to share their experiences of health and social care during the pandemic. Many thanks to all those who participated and contributed feedback. I was kept very busy, ringing back approximately 60 survey participants who wished to provide further feedback via a telephone consultation.

‘I found the telephone consultations (a new way of working for me) very rewarding as many of the people I spoke to were experiencing self-isolation and were so grateful to have a conversation with someone other than the telly or the walls. It was also a very effective way of gathering a wealth of that all-important soft intelligence, ie qualitative information: a key component in the development/delivery of effective health care services. Service planners need this insight so they can design services around the needs of the people who use them.

‘I’m looking forward to doing more one-to-one telephone consultations in the coming weeks so that I can take people's thoughts and views on the Childhood Immunisation Programme – our current survey.'

If you would like to speak to Sara to give your views or feedback on services (or on our Childhood Immunisations survey), please ring: 07964 853219 or email: info@healthwatchbradford.co.uk

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