Positive impacts of COVID-19 on social care

In this section we identify from the essays, roundtable and our wider engagement with the social care sector the key themes about the positive impact of COVID-19 on the sector

Involvement of communities

A common theme that arose through the essays, podcasts and roundtable discussions was the extraordinary willingness of communities to get involved in providing support to others. There were also a lot of discussions about the many mutual aid organisations that sprung up to provide support to those who were shielded. This view that communities had ‘stepped up to help out’ was echoed in the many conversations we have had with stakeholders working in social care as a result of our work on COVID-19.

In time, we hope that above all else, this pandemic will be remembered for revealing our natural instinct to care about each other. Whether it’s been our family, friends or neighbours, what we have wanted for those around us during this time is what we want for ourselves: to live the life we want to lead.

Cllr Ian Hudspeth, Chairman of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board

The wave of good will has just has been an inspiration. A new wave of volunteers is interested in different ways of working, through community businesses – it’s been very difficult and tragic, but it has been a real demonstration of the good will, and skill and gift in communities, if you do it in the right way.

Sian Lockwood, Chief Executive, Community Catalysts

This rise in community spiritedness led many to ask how we could find ways to maintain these levels of enthusiasm and support beyond the end of the crisis. Many feared that without some level of coordination and support, the enthusiasm would wither away.

We need to keep the involvement of local volunteers going. As we come out of the worst of the crisis, there is a danger we let these mutual aid groups fall away. This would mean we lose a once-in-a-generation opportunity to galvanise the community in supporting the delivery of adult social care.

Ade Adetosoye, Chief Executive, London Borough of Bromley

Relationships between local government and providers improved

Several of those we involved in the essays and the roundtable told us that they felt that, whilst not a universal experience for providers, some relationships between local authorities and providers had improved as a result of the pandemic. Moreover, we were told that where there were strong existing relationships and partnerships, relationships were more likely to remain strong during the crisis.

The pandemic has forced commissioners to put their trust in social care providers. They acknowledge that we are professionals who should be trusted to respond in a safe way, always putting the health and wellbeing of those we support and those we employ at the top of our list.

Edel Harris, Chief Executive, Mencap

In our conversations with commissioners and providers as part of our work on COVID-19 with the sector, we heard about several examples of commissioners and providers working more closely during the crisis than before.

Examples of good practice included:

  • The opening up of more regular and supportive communications with providers, including weekly call arounds.
  • The creation of online forums to bring commissioners, providers and community groups together.
  • Making emergency funds available for providers to claim back excess COVID-related costs.
  • Commissioners providing practical support and advice, e.g. on personal protective equipment (PPE), testing, infection control, recruitment.

We also heard that in local places that had strong histories of joint working, the response to the crisis was easier to coordinate, as partners with track records of partnership working reached out to each other and worked on solutions together.

Digital innovation

Many of the contributors to the essays were impressed by how quickly the sector adapted to the need to work online. Within a matter of a week, vast numbers of workers were providing information, advice and support online, whilst care managers were able to keep in regular touch with other care providers through WhatsApp, Zoom calls and Facebook groups.

This was backed up through our engagement with the sector as part of our DHSC COVID-19 support work. Commissioners, providers and care home managers gave us many examples of how they used technology to bring services to people and support each other.

We understand there’s been anxiety. We’re being as supportive as possible and we’re using social media, video calls and email updates to relatives. We also have a lively Facebook page and WhatsApp group. But it’s not just about keeping social activities going. Staff are downloading guidance and we’ve also got them on e-learning training to help tackle the task in hand. This has helped over protective equipment. It’s OK getting it in the first place but it’s important to know how to use it most effectively.

Care home manager

We were told that, in some places, the crisis acted as an accelerant for digital innovation – with both local authorities and providers rolling out new technology solutions, which, before the crisis erupted, would have taken years to get going.

In communities, we also saw the rapid adoption of technology as the main means of communication, and the emergence of a growing number of online mutual aid and social support groups.

For every news story about a tragic death, there is another about a care home connecting its residents up to family via Zoom, or of a social worker working creatively online to plan an active and engaging week for someone. I have no doubt that the sector will bounce back.

Kathryn Smith, Chief Executive, SCIE

Putting trust in people

One response, which was broadly welcomed, was the decision by several local authorities to reduce rules and processes around the allocation of funds. Nowhere was this new-found freedom felt more acutely than for people who receive direct payments. In some local authorities, recipients of these payments were told that they could spend these how they choose. In other cases, commissioners chose to trust providers to spend money flexibly in response to changing needs, rather than holding them to specific key performance indicators that were agreed before the pandemic struck. Ultimately, this more flexible and trusting approach led to better outcomes and experiences:

I have to say that the COVID-19 guidance provided by my social service was rather banal. Yet, one thing stood out like a beacon. This was 'permission' to spend my social care direct payment as I saw fit. Given the years of oppressive policing of every penny, this came as a shock. While not a universal response across England and Wales, it meant I could make decisions about my care needs during this crisis without the anxiety I would normally have had doing so. This breath of fresh air is just one of many other examples of this new flexibility shown by social care services. We must not revert back to 'business as usual'. Trusting us must continue.

Ossie Stuart, Trustee SCIE and person with lived experience

New thinking on the future of adult social care
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