Oct 20

Life Under the 'Clapping for Carers' Radar – Part Two

Posted: 15 October 2020

Dealing with the Challenges of COVID 19

Tina Turnbull is Chief Executive of People Matters and also holds voluntary roles as an Inclusive Growth Ambassador for Leeds City Council, is a director of Leeds City Credit Union and a governor at a local NHS Trust. In the second of her blogs Tina looks at how her team responded as the full scale of the pandemic became clear.

At People Matters, the disability charity I manage, we started lockdown by identifying who out of our 400 members we were most concerned about, either because of their health and/or their reliance upon us if they didn’t have family support. To keep our staff safe we identified who was most vulnerable and needed to minimise their face to face work and community contact.

 A few staff reported possible minor symptoms and self-isolated on SSP taking a financial hit (we couldn’t afford full pay). Many staff don’t drive so organising transport to keep them off public transport was a priority. We wanted to keep the virus out of the organisation.

Our staff were magnificent, totally reinventing what we do and how we do it. From forming groups on social media to delivering online support. The record for a video support session was 4 hours, totally inspirational. There were online cooking sessions and art classes to heartfelt phone discussions with members and families.

Some support meant still getting out there such as doing shopping at the height of the lockdown. A few of our members had nobody to turn to and couldn’t manage on their own in the home. After careful consideration and planning this support continued throughout and I want to honour all the  staff involved for their courage and dedication. Some had significant anxiety about the risks they were taking. No one let us down.

 Being unrecognised the access to supermarkets and other services was sometimes difficult. Dealing with members experiencing mental health challenges from being confined where even a simple short walk with someone they knew and trusted could be a logistical challenge to get across a city of over 750,000 with a non-driver. The country’s focus was on NHS support and our staff with no NHS badge, no uniform and little recognition felt invisible - except to us.

As the weeks went by dealing with PPE supply problems and keeping up with ever changing guidance took far too much time and money, but we still experienced no significant cases of COVID 19. We gradually formalised our systems in this new world, risk assessments for different circumstances grew, long hours supporting staff and members were worked.

Discussions with adult social care at the local authority were incredibly supportive throughout and recognised our success. They asked us about our thoughts about helping other organisations. Could our staff do this? I was sure they could, but very unsure they should and we didn’t, infection control continued to drive everything. The superb work of our registered manager and her team meant no agency workers were needed. I’m sure being self-contained paid us back, still lots of care need, but no virus.

Watching the news some of the challenges the NHS and many residential care settings were facing were an order of magnitude different to us but it took about 3 months before we had even a little extra funding via the local authority to help us deal with all the increased costs, about £30 pcm per member of staff.

Thank goodness for being a charity, gradually some extra funding was secured from charitable foundations like the Lloyds Bank Foundation and the National Lottery Community Foundation, it has been and continues to be invaluable. What about those that aren’t charities though? It took until late July before anything of any real substance arrived from central government and we could then address the staff pay for those who had been on SSP when isolating amongst other increased costs like transport, increased management time and access to digital equipment.

In a small organisation cashflow is king. This delay hurt, it could have been potentially catastrophic in slightly different circumstances. The public funding was full of rules and short spending timescales too. I’m not sure why those in power think they know better than those directly involved how best to keep an organisation and its members safe and strong. It comes down to trust, and we need more of it, formal and informal by whatever means.

Then the virus eventually arrived. The member of staff involved told us openly and honestly knowing that when it happened it could impact her pay. That’s why values and community matter. She self-isolated, her family went down with it too as we watched out for her from afar for weeks on end.

We did our own track and tracing, sent those affected for testing put them into self-isolation with the financial penalties for staff too and held our breath. No one else was affected, not members nor staff. The PPE, training, hard work, self-sufficiency and delivery changes worked and we were fortunate, for now.

As lockdown finished we knew we were in this for the long term and that the challenges would continue. More on that in my final blog.