As an organisation we have been thinking of different ways to communicate with each other, and make sure we all stay connected. With that in mind, Sonia Mangan conducted the first online staff open forum, holding a Q&A session on Microsoft Teams. Remember, you can email your line manager or Sonia at any time if you have any questions or concerns. Here are the Q&As from the first session on the 8th of April.

Q: Are there any plans to look at the organisation going beyond our current 6 days a week?

A: We haven’t discussed this yet, as right now things are still changing day by day. Our first response to the situation was to ensure that everyone was able to work from home while still feeling supported by their teams. The second thing we did was to let carers know that the charity is still up and running and that we are here for them still. We have also been having weekly Business Resilience meetings  with 18 members of the team, including team leaders, members of the leadership team and others, to ensure we continue the service. Finally we have been working with the council, who have set up their online community hub. We have joined their Step-Up programme to provide support for carers and non-carers.

We have been experiencing a lull on the Response Line, with very few calls and emails coming through. So currently there doesn’t seem to be a need for an extended service, but in the future if there was a need for increased support this might be something we look at. We will adjust our hours only if it is something that will be useful and that we can maintain and deliver to a high standard.

Q: Are there any plans to furlough staff?

A: Our approach is to be as accommodating as possible to people’s circumstances. We have had this conversation with staff members if they have felt unable to continue their work from home and in current circumstances.

The government’s job retention scheme gives 80% of someone’s salary back to the company. As far as we are aware we cannot access this scheme as our salaries come from public money.

Q: How do we keep up to date on what is available to carers right now? It is not possible to provide carers with the same resources/materials as before when working on the Response Line.

A: This is a difficulty for everyone in the organisation and we are having to be very flexible and adaptable right now. Things are still very unclear in many districts of West Sussex.

We are doing our best to keep everyone up to date as we hear from our partner organisations what services are still available. We know that many of our partner organisations, for example Age UK, are being inundated right now. In some cases smaller community groups have been stepping up and filling in the gaps.

We are looking to doing fast-track referrals instead, so someone on the Response Line can refer a caller straight through to available services.

The questions that carers will be concerned with are also changing constantly, so as ever our ability to be flexible will be most important. For example, there will be an increased need for bereavement support in the future.

We encourage all Response Line workers to take time before starting shifts to absorb the information and get up to speed on the latest updates.

Q: Could Response Line workers be delegated geographical areas, to call relevant authorities and establish what services are available to feed back to the rest of team?

A: That sounds like a sensible approach. We did start discussing that last week in terms of working with the Community Hubs. This is definitely something we will look at in the future. The Community Hubs have working groups we are working to have connections with.

Q: Could additions to the triage document please be highlighted so that we don’t need to read the whole thing through? You also have to look through a lot of links to find the info you need. Step-up document needs simplifying and putting online.

A: These are all good suggestions and things we will look into.

Q: Carers are calling in concerned that they haven’t received the letter from the NHS saying that they are vulnerable, which means they can’t access vulnerable shopping slots. We are also hearing conflicting information on whether GPs are able to help.

A: We have heard that the numbers will be extended, but it is unclear as to how they have identified who should be considered ‘vulnerable’.

To be identified as a vulnerable person, it’s correct that they should be reaching out to their GP. It is upsetting that someone hasn’t had a good response from their GPs, this is something we should be feeding back to Health Watch.

We will be writing to supermarkets encouraging them to recognise carers as key workers. We are also developing a postcard to send out to as many of our offline carers as possible which assures them we are still here, but will also act as identification for carers to access supermarket slots. We are aiming to have this out by Wednesday next week.

We have also heard that the protected time can end up being busier than usual. So we are also joining calls to have these times extended.

Q: How do we reflect the reality of working on the Response Line when completed our timesheets?

A: We do still need to provide daily reports on what work we are doing right now. I will ask again for clarification on how these should be filled in. Current advice is that you need to fill in what hours you work, so include where you haven’t been able to.

Q: Is there a way on Bernie’s SPOC update that the hospital teams could be included? We are sometimes missing out on updates.

A: Yes, this is something we can look into.

Q: Looking into the future, we are now all set up to work from home. Once this situation has passed, will home working still continue as the norm? Especially to save office space.

A: This is something that has been mentioned, as the situation has given us an opportunity to reflect. We were going to be working on our premises strategy anyway, especially with the end of our Crawley lease in Dec 2021, so this is something we can take into account. We can’t underestimate how lonely it can be to work alone, and we must have a balance going forward.

Q: The Carers Assessment Team currently work in isolation and only have a monthly meeting. In the future perhaps there should be more working together. 

A: Yes, that’s a good suggestion.

A second Q&A was held on Friday 24th April. You can read the questions and responses below. Remember, you can email your line manager or Sonia at any time if you have any questions or concerns.

Q: Are Carers entitled to a COVID test?

A: Carers have been asking if they are considered key workers, and if they should be entitled to a test. As with the issue of getting the supermarkets to recognise them for their priority shopping slots, we can’t force the relevant people to agree (though we are working to persuade them). All we can do is tell Carers that they are welcome to try to use their emails and the postcards to apply for one. Otherwise our advice is to go on the testing website and see there if they qualify.

As with everything right now, this is issue has suddenly appeared, and is changing rapidly. In fact the government has just announced in the last few hours that the website was overwhelmed and shut down. Obviously this is something we would want Carers UK to campaign for (along with the supermarket issue). But I’m sure they were as surprised by the news as we were! So we will have to see how things pan out.

Q: Are we key workers? Does this entitle us to any of the benefits e.g to COVID testing?

A: We fall under the umbrella of giving advice and guidance, rather than face-to-face, and so wouldn’t be classified as key workers.

If any individual in the organisation feels they need to be classed as a keyworker to access testing, for instance if they are a Carer and are concerned, then we can provide a letter to that effect. However we unfortunately cannot guarantee that this will be recognised.

Q: One positive, if unintentional, consequence of us all working from home has been a reduced environmental impact, e.g. less printing, petrol for commuting etc. As an organisation are we monitoring these positive effects and is there a plan to continue them in the future? 

A: As of Monday (27th April) the Org team will start to make a distinction between the work we are doing currently and what we are planning for the future. Undoubtedly there will be much to learn from our current situation as we move forward.

We do lack specific knowledge on our environmental impact and sustainability, as the most recent audit was over 18 months ago. This issue was due to be an agenda point for the Staff Forum, and is certainly something we will address in the future

Q: What is the current situation regarding Carers’ access to priority slots at supermarkets?

A: We have had feedback from Carers that they have been turned away from supermarkets, and that their postcards/emails have not been accepted as sufficient to qualify them for priority slots.

We have been in contact with 48 supermarket, but again there is nothing we can do to make them agree. Carers Trust currently have a national campaign with the four main supermarkets, and they say that the response has been variable.

All we can say to our Carers is that we have tried, and we will continue to try. If we have the capacity to speak to individual store managers we will, but there unfortunately is not much more we can do.

Q: What will the protocol be when we return to face-to-face? 

A: It is incredibly difficult for us to know at what point face-to-face will happen and what it will look like when it does. On Monday we are starting our planning group, and part of that will be: what will those scenarios look like? How can we start supporting our groups again, e.g. virtual options, smaller groups?

There are a whole host of ways this could happen, but of course there will be a plan and a protocol in place to keep us all safe. My hope is that we will be able to move slowly and with clarity into the next stage. We do know how important the groups are, and how meaningful it is for Carers to meet peer to peer, so we do want to do this as soon as we safely can.

Q: We have seen in the news this week that the Coronavirus is rife in care homes around the country, with the number of deaths rising significantly in the last two weeks.  In addition, many care homes have had to take in additional residents at very short notice, many of whom have been discharged from hospital as part of the rapid discharge programme.

Does our service have any plans to target care homes in West Sussex to encourage them to let family members and friends know that we are here to support them in this very difficult and distressing situation? 

This would not only potentially help us find many more hidden carers, but also relieve the pressure on care home staff who are currently being bombarded with calls from anxious relatives and friends on top of trying to attend to the needs of their residents.

A: I think this is a wonderful suggestion and I will bring this up with the team next week. In the next few weeks we will also need to start thinking about bereavement support, and support for Carers who might have had to make very difficult decisions in haste.

Q: Will we be doing a survey on Carers’ needs?

A: Carers UK have just released the results of their recent survey on carers needs, so we don’t necessarily need to do one of our own.

Q: I work part-time including on the Response Line but with a lot of other responsibilities too. Put simply there is no way for me to accomplish everything I’m meant to within my working hours.

A: We hear you and this is something we are looking at managing. We are having a meeting soon about what the expectation is for our part time and our full-time workers.

Please make sure to take breaks, do not work over your hours. Remember to look after yourselves.

A third Q&A was held on Thursday 7th May. You can read the questions and responses below. Remember, you can email your line manager or Sonia at any time if you have any questions or concerns.

Q: What is the difference between the COVID-19 support we provide on the Response Line and the support provided by the WSCC Community Hub? 

A: It is difficult for us to know at any given point if the Community Hub has more up-to-date information than we do. Something we have achieved this week is the CLIO link–the County Local Information Online–the directory that the Community Hub uses. We now have access to this database, which can be searched by town or by the issue you need information about e.g shopping, wellbeing etc. The feedback from the Response Line has been that this database is really useful for finding information, particularly while you’re on a call.

As a caveat when we give this information out, all we can do is be honest. We can only give the best information we have at the time.

Q: My favourite part of my job is the Carer Groups, However, when I hear stories about what has happened in certain care homes, I am loath to go there myself in the future or invite others.

A: One of the things the Business Resilience team has been working on is a way for carers to meet peer-to-peer. For those who can, we are looking into virtual support groups, as the anticipation is that it will be some time before we can be in a room together again.

I’m proud that as a charity we have acted quickly to avoid spreading this disease. We must continue to act safely, and to act according to government guidance. It might be that we can meet but in smaller groups. There will be a process in stages as we ease out of the lockdown, continuing to have the official guidelines and the well being of our Carers, staff and volunteers in mind. Whatever we do will be measured and considered, and will be something we all discuss.

Q: A lot of my Carers who are caring for those who are extremely vulnerable, and are concerned that if pressure mounts for them to return to work they’ll be left with the impossible choice of exposing their cared for to potential infections.

A: I am going to have a look at what Carers UK and Carers Trust have to say on this issue. It will depend on what is announced on Sunday. It has been a long battle to have unpaid carers recognised at every stage of this crisis. However, I feel confident that Carers UK and Trust will act swiftly as they have been.

We know that there are going to be significant socio-economic issues affecting everyone in our communities in the coming months, and we are going to have to be flexible in our support.

A Q&A was held on Tuesday 26th May. You can read the questions and responses below. Remember, you can email your line manager or Sonia at any time if you have any questions or concerns.

Q- What are the plans for a phased return to work?

We are taking a cautious and measured approach to this, as we have responsibilities on a number of different fronts. One of these is to follow the government guidance, which as we all know changes on a regular basis! What’s happening is several organisations, including national ones like Carers Trust are trying to work out how to support us in our interpretation of these.

The second part is the local guidance, for example with regard to the hospital sites. The third factor is our responsibility to keep our staff and volunteers safe. We will be publishing and making the Risk Assessments available to you before we return. Amanda was on a webinar on Friday with our HR advisors and they discussed everything we need to keep in mind to keep our environment safe. There are many things to consider from air flow to the office layout, and we need to take these all into account.

Currently the guidance is that as we can work from home we will continue to do so. I know it isn’t helpful when it comes to planning ahead. All I can say is that we will continue to talk to you about it and any changes will be given with at least three weeks notice (but in practice is should be much longer than this). What’s been really helpful is looking at your survey results and seeing what staff are thinking about these issues.

Q- Within my Teams I have a staff member very anxious about returning to hospital. Is there any kind of support available, perhaps in the form of training, that would support staff in returning to hospital?

This return will not happen without showing employees the risk assessments and giving them ample notice of the return to work. As with every aspect of our return to normality, this will only be carried out in consultation with our employees as well as Community Trusts and other hospital teams.

Q- When might we start doing 1-to-1s with carers again, if not in the office but in outdoor spaces?

Right now we’re focusing on telephone support and virtual groups. The next step, as to whether we’ll offer face to face, is something we’re discussing. This probably won’t be in the summer; if we had to put a timeline on it we’re realistically looking at the autumn.

We are meeting soon with Age UK and Carers East Midlands as to whether we could work with their groups to provide face to face support, as they have larger venues with more space. We know that carers are missing the respite, so this is something we want to happen as soon as possible.

Q- Is there an update on the CRM?

I’m not the expert, but I know that Team Leaders have information on this. Daniel Hales:

We have had some training and it’s looking really good. 95% of what we do is going to be really similar, so you will be familiar with it. However, it’s definitely going to make everything much faster and easier! Now that the Team Leaders have signed off many of the processes, we are putting together a training programme. The idea is that this will be suitable for all types of learners, including videos, active groups, and process notes.

There will be four two-hour training sessions, two of which must come out of Response Line hours, beginning in the week of 8th June. If this is something you don’t have capacity for, please feed this back to your Team Leaders as we can make a plan.

Q- I found last week overwhelming as we had a lot of information coming our way as well as multiple surveys. I understand we need the information but I think it’s something to be mindful of.

Last week there was a flurry of information that had to go out immediately. It’s a difficult decision we have to make each time, as somethings need to be sent out even if they’ll be the second email of the day. We do appreciate that this can be overwhelming, and where we can hold things back and spread them out we do.

Q- The government has announced funding for charities. Do we have access to this, or do you know if we can apply for it?

We are working with Carers Trust on this as they have a better chance of getting money from the larger funds, and we could then apply to them. During this whole period our fundraiser, Jon Field, has put in bids to the value of £74,000 and we’ve been awarded around £6000 so far.

Q- We seem to be sending out a lot of information right now, and with the CRM training and Carers Week coming up, how are we going to cope with the resulting influx?

When we sent the big ‘We Are Still Here For You’ campaign out to approx 17,000 carers, this did lead to an initial surge but then it levelled off. Any communication like this will always be run by the Team Leaders who can feedback regarding the work levels on the Response Line. A decision is then made as to whether it’s the best time to send it. The issue is that in some cases these issues are time sensitive, such as the contact we’ll shortly be making with care homes.

Following a suggestion in the second Q&A, that we speak to care homes in West Sussex to encourage them refer friends and family to us, we now have a database of the roughly 400 care homes in the county. They already make frequent contact with families, so the idea would be we could be included in one of these messages. Ideally this will be a partnership which could continue into the future. Obviously we don’t want to flood them with information as they are very busy right now, but we want to make sure that carers involved with care homes have the opportunity to contact us.

A Q&A was held on Tuesday 16th June. You can read the questions and responses below. Remember, you can email your line manager or Sonia at any time if you have any questions or concerns.

Q: What’s next for Carers Support?

I know we all want a bit of certainty. Ultimately with face-to-face groups, we are really looking at September at the earliest–but only if it’s appropriate. Remember we will give you at least three weeks notice, and we’ll also have Risk Assessments published for everyone to see before we go back.

There is some nuance with the other groups. I am meeting with the Hospital Services team in the coming weeks, and we may have to think about having some face-to-face activity there. However, we know it can’t be in our offices, and it needs to be thought through, needs to be planned, and has to take into account what the local trusts are doing. The face covering guidance that came out on the 5th June, was news that even the hospital execs didn’t know about it until it was announced, and this is something they’re working to implement now. The other variation could be the Carer Assessment team. Again, this would be a slow process and wouldn’t be back to 100%.

Again, there are so many factors that we just don’t know about– if there will be a second wave, how winter will affect things etc.

Q: In our Mental Health Team we’ve had the opposite reaction, with our Carers preferring not to have to leave the house to access our groups. So in these cases people are actually happier that the groups are online rather than face-to-face.

We are spending a lot of time right now working out what ‘normal’ is and will be going forward. I think there will be a combination–for people who don’t have connectivity the face-to-face is really important. We need to ensure that we keep our agility and flexibility.

We are in a strong position at the moment, as we haven’t had the difficulties some other charities have experienced, for instance with shops and day centres closing. This strength also means we have more of a responsibility to our communities.

We’ve had several virtual carer groups and they’ve gone really well and been well-received. The Carers Assessment Team has been getting in touch with carers, and the Hospital Teams have been working hard to stay in contact with our partners.

Q: Are there any concerns about our funding from the council?

The council would have to give us three months notice if they were to change anything. They are in a bad financial situation right now, but we have positioned ourselves a Business Critical Provider. This means that we are an essential part of the Council’s work. This is not to say we might never see a reduction, but I think we are in a good position right now to deal with this.

Q- Reflecting on the report that says that carers have increased, that means we must be even more relevant than before?

Exactly, and Mark our commissioner sent that report out to others, which is good news! We could have up to 150,000 carers in West Sussex. This might mean we get much busier in the coming weeks, especially as lockdown begins to ease and people reflect on how they’re feeling.

Q- Talking about flexibility, is there anything within our contract that says we can’t do more home visits? I know British Red Cross are starting to visit properties but staying outside. Is this something we are considering?

That is a nice idea, but of course we would need to make sure this is as safe for carers as possible.

Q- I like that we haven’t been commuting etc, we’ve had much lower an impact on the environment during this time.

This is something that came up in the Staff Forum and in the recent survey. This is something we’ve all noticed and appreciated about this time.

The thing is, we aren’t going to stay like this forever. We want to keep reducing our carbon footprint, but we need to maintain accessibility for our carers.
Amanda is currently exploring the Cycle to Work scheme, where you can have a grant towards a push bike. This won’t work for everyone but is something nice to look into.

Q- While those carers who are tech savvy are accessing our services, but many people aren’t and might be left out. Many of the carers who received the postcard said how touched they were by it.

This is one of the reasons we have been making phone calls to carers, and why we have put a budget towards print media and the radio adverts during Carers Week.

The next campaign we are conducting is ‘We are by your side no matter what’, the idea being no matter what your circumstances. We’ll have some more details on this campaign next week. The physical media has been really well received. Postage is extremely expensive which is a limitation, and we need to make sure we have enough budget left for the rest of the year.

Q- If you have a third party referral, it can be quite hard for people to know who we are. It’s nice to be able to send a leaflet, so they can see who we are. I’m trying to be as creative as possible with emails but it’s not easy!

We appreciate this, the problem is getting the mechanism in place for you to send things out safely.

A Q&A was held on Thursday 9th July. You can read the questions and responses below. Remember, you can email your line manager or Sonia at any time if you have any questions or concerns.

Surveys

I will be sending two surveys. The first is monitoring for diversity and equality and inclusion. It’s to make sure that we all have clarity on who we are. This will be anonymous, and is about who we are collectively. This is important as obviously we need to make sure we are taking all these aspects of work and life into account. This is something we should be doing monthly.

The second has been delayed due to the snap Staff Engagement Survey a few months ago, as a result of COVID-19. The next staff engagement survey is conducted annually to track our progress in making changes and gauging levels of staff and volunteer satisfaction. As a result of these surveys, we have looked at a tighter supervision policy and a review of our learning and development policy. This will also run for two weeks. Those of you who have done this before know that this is a short survey.

I’m also going to alert you to the review of our strategy, WSCC are doing a review of their commitment to carers. We have sent out our stakeholder survey. We will shortly be sending our annual Carers survey too.

Surveys are of course only a part of our strategy development. However, we have had some wonderful data this way, and it will ensure that we know what is actually needed in West Sussex.

CRM

Staff comments on CRM

-Well done CRM team, I think they have really been there and been helpful this week. They have been a lifeline. If there have been issues these have been fixed very quickly. I like this much better than the old system.
-I feel the same, if there have been problems they have been dealt with immediately. Roger and Vanessa have been brilliant, so thank you!

Robert: The way everyone has pulled together to deliver this is incredible. Congratulations to everyone who’s been involved. I’ve never seen a new database application go so smoothly in my career! I am blown away by the co-operation of everyone involved in the testing and delivery.

Q&A

Q: I don’t want to lose the connection I have with carers in my support groups. I’ve found that while we never carried case loads before, I am now phoning some people quite regularly, especially if they have lost someone in this time. What has happened is you really get to know people, as we can in some cases be the only line of support. They are all desperate to meet up. I know we don’t have guidelines yet but is it possible for us to start meeting at a distance?

A: From a risk perspective, this would be fine if carers met up separate from CSWS. If anyone from the organisation joins, we would then need to make sure we’re covered in terms of all liabilities. This is about being COVID-19 secure, so we’d need to know that these activities would be if we were to be involved.

This morning the wider management group were discussing what our next steps will be. Our first priority is to our carers, and to those services where a lack of face to face has been very challenging.

We’ve started with Carers Assessments, and with our hospital-based services. It’s only within the last 2 weeks that our staff have been allowed to return to hospitals. We do not anticipate that they can do 100% face to face for a good while. We’ve also been looking at the government guidance, for instance that face to face meetings be no longer than 90 minutes, have the correct PPE, ventilation, space etc. There are so many aspects, but if we don’t follow these guidelines, we are putting ourselves and the charity at risk.

The next step will be our Carer Support Groups. We are looking at whether, as well the virtual offer, we can offer a small fraction of these groups in person again. We may be talking about half a dozen to begin with, seeing how these go. It’s important that we do these in a measured way. Is there a need? What are the risks? What resources would we need to do it?

As far as staff going back into offices, this is the least urgent. As much as it is lovely to work together, it might be that we need our office spaces for these carer facing activities. Whatever we do needs to be flexible enough for us to reverse it if need be.

We are working on it, I assure you. We spoke to the respite services yesterday, and they are also taking tentative steps towards opening again.

Task and Finish Groups

I know many of you have been involved in our Task and Finish groups, so looking at things like the Response Line, our Community Teams, and emotional support. This is a good opportunity to review all the work we’re doing, and see if there is anything we can be doing better.

Staff comments on Task and Finish groups

-It’s been a great experience to work with people from across the organisation. We’ve had lots of ideas bouncing around.

-One of the resources we’d like to explore is Carers’ potential to support each other and themselves. It is also inspiring to see oneself as part of a solution rather than being a ‘problem’.

-We had a good exercise in terms of going to other services who run a similar system and seeing how they manage them. It’s useful to see how different teams use the Response Line and get people’s different viewpoints.

Update on premises

It was also within the plan for this year to review our premises. That process is beginning to start and is looking more widely at what the organisation needs going forward. Obviously, things have changed since we first started talking about this, and clearly we need to think about this going forward.