Sefton Council COVID-19 Shielding Support Service
Briefly describe the initiative/ project/service; please include your aims and objectives
On 20th March 2020, as a result of the Government’s announcement to control the spread of Coronavirus, all Active Sefton Leisure Centres temporarily closed, alongside ceasing of all community-based services delivered through Active Lifestyles, Active Workforce and Active Sports. Although where possible services were managed agilely and delivered virtually, the ceasing of physical delivery and closure of sites meant the section were able to redeploy staff to support over 22,000 residents identified as ‘Clinically Extremely Vulnerable’ (CEV) and shielding, with some incredibly positive outcomes. 40 staff from Sefton Councils Active Sefton team were redeployed to support the bespoke shielding support service, which involved making welfare calls to CEV residents to ensure they had access to basic essentials, alongside any further care or wellbeing support provided internally or through wider partners. The aim was to ensure the boroughs most vulnerable residents were connected to services and to their communities at a time when they needed support the most, both from a physical and wellbeing perspective. Ranging from a friendly voice, implementation of support packages, social care assessments, financial support, through to escalation of emergency domestic violence situations or supporting those on the edge of crisis, the shielding support service continued throughout the initial four months of the pandemic and received overwhelming praise.
To develop the service several Council teams and wider partners came together, coordinating approaches to ensure demands were met to fulfil the aims of the service. This included:
– Active Sefton – who managed and coordinated the service as well as providing operational delivery. Staff contacted all CEV residents weekly or biweekly, reaching over 1200 phone calls per day.
– Business Intelligence – received information from the national data set on CEV residents and analysed data to extract those residents known to council services (Adult Social Care, Children’s Social Care, Early Help Services) as well as residents that registered for support. The data was manipulated and transferred into a useable format, ensuring it was easy to report and feedback on various outcomes, as well being used to set up a text messaging support service. The team identified residents who were financially in crisis and able to access support such as the Emergency Limited Assistance Scheme (ELAS).
– Contact Centre – responded to resident’s phone calls 7 days a week and triaged to relevant support services both internally and through partners, such as Sefton’s Council for Voluntary Service (CVS).
– Communities Team – delivered emergency food parcels to residents across the borough with no access to food, as well as visiting residents who had not responded to calls or exhibited welfare concerns.
– Green Sefton – gave additional support with emergency food parcel deliveries.
Partner organisations included;
– Merseyside Fire & Rescue – delivered emergency prescriptions to residents who were unable to access medications.
– Sefton CVS – provided assisted shopping services, befriending support and connected people to a wide range of community organisations to support mental and physical wellbeing.
Staff had access to a range of resources in order to signpost on to further support if requested or if they deemed it appropriate. The objective of ensuring our most vulnerable residents stayed safe, physically and mentally well was achieved. It also allowed Sefton Council to identify residents that were incredibly vulnerable or even in crisis but not known to Council Services. By identifying them early, escalation of their support needs in the long-term should halt by way of ensuring they receive the support they need now. Without this service these residents would have remained unknown and unconnected. Socially isolated residents are still receiving befriended support through our voluntary services and have become much better connected to services and their communities. The dedication and support given by staff supporting this service was incredible. Staff were expected to transition from their day jobs into roles that required completely different skill sets overnight. Managers coordinating the service prepared data late every evening ready for calls to be made the following morning. Callers very often found themselves in emotionally difficult situations, dealing with residents who were frightened, in crisis, had been bereaved due to COVID-19, had heightened mental health issues, substance misuse problems, in financial difficulty, with suicidal concerns, needing medical attention, or raising domestic violence issues. It is evident that staff members have grown from their experiences of supporting these residents. When shielding ceased on 31st July, Sefton ensured a process remained in place for residents to receive support, with the Contact Centre continuing to triage residents even now.
What are the key achievements?
Over the 4-month period the key achievements of the shielding support service include:
– 50,289 welfare phone calls were made, with staff calling over 1,200 residents per day at its peak
– 1,200 emergency food parcels were delivered to local residents, with deliveries arranged twice per day
– 653 people were triaged across to Sefton Council for Voluntary Services (CVS) for further wellbeing support, including additional befriending contact, mentoring support and connection into any local community services
– 410 people were triaged across to Sefton CVS for assisted shopping support, which was suited to their specific dietary needs
– 289 people have had medicines picked up and delivered by Merseyside Fire and Rescue
There was also continuous signposting to further support from other council services and partners, including but not limited to:
– Referrals to the Emergency Limited Assistance Scheme (ELAS).
– Referrals to adult social care in order for residents to receive social care assessments.
– Housing options support for residents that were in financial difficulty with rent or had problems with tenancy.
– Foodbank support for families who needed additional access to food aside from that provided through national or emergency food parcels. Some families struggled to feed their families due to children being home from school and the increased costs of providing extra meals.
– Referrals through to Primary Care for those residents who were exhibiting worsening health as a result of isolation, both from a physical and mental point of view.
As outlined earlier the team also dealt with a number of difficult situations for people in / on the edge of crisis, including those with deteriorating mental health, safeguarding and domestic violence concerns. The phone calls from staff have been met by some very appreciative residents, who, without the support, were at complete risk of social isolation. As the service progressed and knowledge increased, the callers independently began building up the confidence to contact a whole range of professionals to seek advice or clarification on issues that were in turn fed back to CEV residents, including additional research outside of their remit on services and signposting.
There were also secondary outcomes as a result of the shielded service that will continue to benefit Sefton residents and Sefton Council regardless of the pandemic. These include:
– The service allowed Sefton Council to find residents that were unknown to support services even though they were socially isolated, had poor health or suffered with a variety of other factors that affected their quality of life. As a result, it allowed the Council and wider partners, such as Sefton CVS, to put appropriate support in place for them early, which in turn will improve their quality of life and subsequently stop escalation into more specialist, intrusive, costly services that are already in high demand (such as Adult Social Care) in future years.
– The need for several teams, both internal and external, to come together and create the service within a matter of days has meant that a crucial network of partners has developed, with a number of pivotal key working relationships that will continue to be utilised for other pieces of work moving forward to the benefit of our residents. There has also been a much heighted knowledge and awareness of each other’s services, priorities, and the way in which they are delivered, both at a management and operational level.
– As the support given to CEV residents was so thorough and longstanding, when the second lockdown was introduced on 5th November, demand for the service was heavily reduced. This was for 2 reasons – i) vulnerable residents that were in need of intensive support had already been connected into services and communities and were continuing to receive the help they needed, ii) other residents who initially asked for support were given enough knowledge, guidance, advice and signposting into services or resources that allowed them to help themselves, which meant they remained completely independent during the second lockdown.
One of the most important outcomes was the growth and development of the operational staff that dealt directly with CEV residents. The skills and abilities essential to support our vulnerable were very different to those employed in their normal roles, with the staff showing a willingness to learn from the outset of the service. The staff dealt with residents who were exhibiting a whole range of difficult personal circumstances, a number of which personally affected the callers. The growth in their interpersonal and communication skills as a result of this was incredible, in addition to the significant increase in their confidence. Added to this is the much-enhanced knowledge and awareness of the range of services available through Sefton Council and our partners, something that they are continuing to utilise in their day jobs.
What are the key learning points?
There was a need for the shielding support service to be implemented rapidly, with lead partnerships established, plans and procedures developed, roles and responsibilities agreed, and its full implementation put in place at speed both internally and with external partners to ensure support was facilitated from week one of lockdown. Managers and other Officers supported the transitions to very different work areas that the staff would not ordinarily be used to or trained to undertake. There were challenges faced to make the redeployment work, whilst also ensuring staff were competent, confident, comfortable and trained appropriately, however the feedback and outcomes achieved have made it very worthwhile. The fortunate position for Sefton was that strong partnerships were already in place across services within the Council, as well as with the voluntary, community and faith sector and wider organisations and partners. This network was therefore harnessed immediately and gave the development of the service a much-needed head start. The network has since remained in place and been called upon in preparation to step up once more if or when it is necessary. A key learning point from this is the importance of building and maintaining key networks and relationships and the difference this can make to communities.
A lesson learnt, and one that will be mirrored nationally, is about planning for the future. The hard work put in by all partners and front-line staff allowed this service to become effective with limited training. However, given the unprecedented circumstances, it meant that staff lacked the knowledge and awareness necessary, and although with guidance the competence and confidence developed rapidly, a planned approach would be preferable. In future, consideration would be given regarding training that could be delivered to the workforce to prepare them better. This could be something more generic in nature around supporting people, community delivery, communication, resilience-based training and IT skills. Wider, more varied training opportunities would have been invaluable for this piece of work. Some thought is therefore being given regarding staff member training and diversification of training plans.
Over the course of the shielding process, networks and key relationships continued to develop and ensured that the most vulnerable in our community could access support for essentials or wellbeing. Crucial to this was the way data was interpreted, input and reported on to ensure necessary actions were taken. Several of the staff working on the shielding support have practical day jobs, which means their computer time and subsequent IT skills can be limited to what they normally require .The presentation of the data by our Business Intelligence Team into a more user-friendly format, using dropdown boxes and simplifying outcomes, ensured that residents had relevant actions followed up and received contact based on their own requested timescales (weekly, fortnightly, monthly etc). Something as simple as the way data was presented was crucial and over time was changed to suit the needs of the staff.
Given the nature of the service another important element was the support that staff received through regular contact with managers. They were able to contact them at any time to resolve issues, for reassurance and to discuss specific circumstances affecting residents. This ensured that actions could be taken, and issues dealt with swiftly to ensure the support given to individuals was appropriate and timely. Strong leadership and management support were therefore crucial elements. It was also important to ensure staff have wider health and wellbeing support around stress management, working from home (which most were not used to), and tips and ideas to improve their own mental and physical health during a very challenging time.
The Council communicated with residents via social media to raise awareness of the support available to residents, which allowed engagement with people who were potentially having issues registering as part of the shielding service. Queries were directed to the Contact Centre, which in turn allowed residents to receive assistance if they were entitled to support. It was evident that clear communication allowed more people to access shielding support, raised the Council’s corporate social responsibility profile, which reinforced how critical clear communication is internally and publicly. Changes to areas of work, different processes and new systems was dealt with reactively, which in many ways was unavoidable but can also be a challenging way to work long term. Procedures, communication networks, and relationships have been formed as a result of the shielding support service, which will stand in good stead for future work and adapting to challenging times.
The staff that supported Sefton’s Shielded service worked incredibly hard to support vulnerable residents at an overwhelmingly difficult & frightening time. Partners, managers, through to welfare callers, there was a shared understanding of how important it was to make this work & what difference it would make to our communities. Everyone went above expectation for 4-months & this award would reinforce how important this piece of work was. The service was one of the unique offerings nationally.
COVID-19 Response Recognition Award
As a result of the shielding being introduced and the leisure team being responsible for daily welfare calls, ways of working were quickly adapted. Feedback received from residents highlighted the impact the welfare calls had on them during the period of shielding, and how it made a difference to their lives at the time. Examples of comments are below (with personal details removed):
1. Dear XXXX
I would like to pass on my sincerest thanks to Sefton council for their support during this difficult period. The food parcel went so far in helping out, and the Sefton staff who have contacted me have been great. Even having to listen to me griping on about breaking a tooth in the middle of lock down. Your support has been Tremendous thank you so much
2. Dear XXX and XXXXX,
I just wanted to drop you a quick note to say how much I have appreciated the welfare calls I’ve received from your team(s). I am registered as extremely vulnerable because of underlying health issues, for which I receive immunotherapy treatment, but count myself lucky as I am reasonably fit despite that. Nevertheless, to have received the calls has meant so much. To know that someone cares, that someone is looking out for you is really quite touching. Please pass on my thanks to your teams. I’m so sorry that I can’t remember all their names but the latest to call was XXX. I think before that there was XXXX, XXX, XXX Anyway, they were all delightful ladies and such a pleasure to chat to. Keep up the good work, it IS appreciated. Many thanks.