The pressures faced by the NHS and the incredible work being done to save lives during the pandemic remains (quite rightly) in the spotlight.
Less visible, but equally important, is the work being done by councils like ours, Greenwich RLBC, to protect residents, reduce the number of people needing hospital treatment and ultimately free up NHS resources.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, we were working on a programme to challenge and change the way we provide adult social care – focusing on empowering our residents and supporting them to achieve independent living. But when the national lockdown was announced in March 2020, the entire service was reorganised practically overnight. Gone was the highly-organised, programme-managed response, and instead an instinctive readjustment based on the strengths of staff and residents took its place.
In the first few months, our challenge was PPE. Securing the right equipment was no longer just the role of our commissioning and business support team – a public appeal didn’t just grab headlines. It saw local businesses and schools donating urgently needed supplies.
Even with stocks of PPE available, how we supported our residents had to change. Remote visits that had made up just 20% of our appointments needed to increase to 80%. Our occupational therapy team spearheaded our use of digital technology, carefully building trust with residents who were suspicious of – or unfamiliar with – the video calling techniques. By raising confidence in video assessments, the team was able to ensure more people could be discharged from care safely, without needing a hospital stay.
While some adjustments have involved expanding skill sets and processes to meet new demands, others have seen us branching out into completely unknown territory. In May, all hands were on deck as 90 staff from across the council and private sector collaborated to set up a new facility for residents who could not return home after being in hospital. In the space of just four weeks, we refurbished a vacant sheltered housing block to allow residents to receive care and support – at the same time freeing up vital hospital beds. Our hospital discharge process has also been enhanced to ensure a home-first approach, enabling people to return home rather than being placed in institutional settings.
Getting people back into their homes as a priority has meant our reablement service has been the first option for about 60% of residents leaving hospital, providing a short period of support to get them back on their feet. During the pandemic, through the hard work of the team and without additional financial investment, the service has increased productivity by 70%. It has enabled more residents to get out of hospital quicker, receive support at home and regain their independence. Added to this, our joint emergency team, which combines staff from the council and the NHS foundation trust, helps to avoid unnecessary hospital admissions by responding to emergencies in the community.
When people do need to be admitted, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital looks after the residents of Greenwich. The hospital means more to residents than just a place to receive care however. Many local people work there too and supporting everyone employed at the trust is just another way we can help. In the latest wave, our homecare staff are working on wards to support the depleted hospital workforce by picking up personal care tasks such as washing, personal hygiene and social care activities.
This month, we also launched Project Hope – a joint initiative with Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust to support the wellbeing of NHS staff and patients with help from members of the public and businesses. Donations of items such as wrapped snacks and hand creams, therapeutic services, overnight accommodation for staff who can’t return home at the end of a shift and a new raft of volunteers to work at the hospital are just a few examples of the support shown by the community.
If we’ve learned anything from this pandemic, it’s that we can effect change and make a difference much more quickly than we ever thought possible. And the key is not to try to do it on our own – colleagues across the council, partner organisations and our communities have all played a vital role in our response to this pandemic and that’s something that won’t soon be forgotten.
Cllr Danny Thorpe is leader of Greenwich RLBC