At the start of April, when the crisis quickly began to unfold, we established our new Help Boro helpline for residents to use for ad hoc or ongoing support. We didn’t have a clear picture of how many people would need support, or exactly what type of support, as we were in uncharted territory.
As soon as we launched our helpline, we were receiving 100 phone calls a day initially, as well as many more contacts through our online self-referral system. There was high demand for support with getting food supplies, prescriptions, and people wanting somebody to talk to. We had a team at the Central Library taking the calls and then our staff worked hard to deliver the help people needed.
As soon as the NHS Volunteer Responders programme was launched, we started to use it. The programme was set up by NHS England and Royal Voluntary Service, working in partnership with GoodSAM to develop flexible, app-based volunteering. It uses geo-location to pinpoint the nearest volunteer responders.
The responders provide help and support to people who need to self-isolate, are housebound, or who want to avoid busy public spaces during the pandemic, by collecting and delivering shopping, medication or other essential supplies for them. The scheme can also provide transport to medical appointments and supportive phone calls.
NHS Goodsam has had a massive positive impact for us as a local authority and we have been able to help so many more people because of it. All this at a time when we were moving staff around to carry out different roles to ensure we continued to provide the services our residents needed.
The table system on the GoodSAM app gives us a clear picture of who we’ve been able to help and we can track their support, which is fantastic. We have also been able to assign people a continuous service for shopping or prescriptions, which means we don’t need to go back into the app every time and input their details.
We have mainly used it for medical prescriptions, referring around 500 people in the first two months. After getting used to how the system worked, we have experienced a smooth and supportive service.
We’ve had lots of good feedback from people who have been helped by the responders. One man rang us to say his volunteer was absolutely fantastic - he had expressed worries about leaving the house because he did not have a mask and when the volunteer delivered his prescription he had sorted some face coverings for him too. We have had many times when we have passed on a prescription referral at 4.30pm and the responders have still managed to get it delivered the same day.
As we move out of lockdown, we can see in the future there might be a need for the scheme, in particular if we get another lockdown. Many people are still cautious about going out, particularly the elderly and, of course, we don’t know what the next weeks and months might bring. Now that the food box scheme for the shielded population in England has ended, the NHS Volunteer Responder scheme will be particularly valuable to people who remain cautious about visiting places such as supermarkets. Although clients will need to pay for their food shopping, they can arrange for it to be delivered by the volunteers. The scheme has allowed us as a local authority to support many more people in the community and if you have residents whom need shopping or prescription support; I would urge you to use the NHS goodsam app.
For more details of the NHS Volunteer Responders Programme click here
Joe Carson is volunteer development officer and community co-ordinator at Middlesbrough Council