Q&As with Sonia

Q&As with Sonia2020-09-21T14:14:03+01:00

As an organisation, we like to stay connected on a regular basis and provide a live forum to engage with our CEO Sonia Mangan. This page has notes of previous Q&A sessions for reference in case you were unable to attend. Simply click the plus sign (+) to read the questions and answers from that date.Remember, you can email your line manager or Sonia at any time if you have any questions or concerns.

7th October 20202020-10-21T15:55:11+01:00

Q: An issue which came up in our latest Princess Royal team meeting was the Christmas leave. It was mentioned in an email that we need to have cover on the Response Line during that time. I just wondered what the level of cover needs to be, is the service going to be open in the week between Christmas and New Year? Will there be an expectation for staff other than those on the Response Line to be working? I understand that we need these to be covered before we book leave but obviously booking leave needs to happen ASAP especially for those of us with other commitments.

A: We will be opening the Response Line between 10 am and 2 pm between Christmas and New Year. We do need to provide some service during this time as that’s in our contract. Vanessa has been working on a rota for that, and I believe it is almost full now. We will have a rota for some manager cover, and the duty managers will be working too. There isn’t a need for a lot of staff as we know things are quieter at that time of year. If you aren’t on a Response Line shift now then you will be able to book leave by next week. We know things are different while working from home especially with children around etc. Looking at the rota, we do already have good cover so I think it’s safe to say that we can start having those conversations with our Team Leaders.

Reminder about arrangements

Caroline is deputy CEO and so as well as making sure that carer services continue to function, she has the responsibly of signing off decisions, linking with commissioners, linking with partners, with health and social care etc. Remember it’s a critical time at the moment (I feel like I’m saying this all the time!) The council are starting their winter plan, which is different this year for obvious reasons, beyond flu jabs, beyond keeping hospital admissions down etc. We also need to continue to keep hospital discharge down.

Caroline will also do the CEO updates and the Q&A. If I had a hat, she’d have had to wear it!

With regards to the strategy development, and thinking about what our carers and stakeholders have told us: we’ve had nearly a 1000  carer responses, which is just amazing. Ultimately it is the trustees’ responsibly to develop our strategy. So right now all the info is being processed towards the middle of November we’ll be looking at this and seeing what it tells us. In December we’ll be speaking to you guys.

Pat will be there to fill you in for the website review. So we’ve tried to make sure that any activity currently happening will continue while I’m not here. So that is the arrangement for roughly the next four weeks.

Q: Where are we with the pause?

What we know is that there is country wide a rise in infections. We will continue to keep apace of what is happening, and this will continue to be reviewed. The ops team continue to meet every morning. I’ll say to you now, what we won’t do is make any other decision without giving you three week’s notice. We will continue to balance the three things: what is the need, is it a good use of our resources, and is it safe? Anything we do needs to meet those three criteria.

Q: As a carer organisation, are we going to comment on the state of affairs with regards to testing and care homes? Are we offering any increased emotional support?

A: We are a support organisation, not a campaigning one. We make sure that carers voices are heard. We have publicised the state of affairs with the care homes to Healthwatch, the council etc. We know that this is an emotive issue, and that it’s causing a lot of pain. All we can do is provide emotional support and to bring carers’ voices to those who can make decisions about this.

With regard to the emotional support, we have the waiting list down to 35 carers. Some people want to wait for face to face to come back and we’ve explained to them how long a wait this might be. We’ve rolled out zoom and phone counselling and both are working well. Our counsellors are not confined to a specific office, so we aren’t relying on office availability, so we have been very productive. That’s why we’ve managed to get the waiting list down so much.

18th September 20202020-09-21T13:32:51+01:00

Q: We’re being cautious about a second wave or a local lockdown; are there any parameters for staff being pulled from hospital sites? Also, what happens if we get a positive COVID test? Is there an occupational health route?

We’re continuing to operate as we have since March. In a recent CEO email I resent the FAQs, which include our approach to returning to face-to-face but also what the protocol is if you need to self-isolate. We’re still in the same position as we were only just delicately going back into some face-to-face discussions as we needed to. We are very carefully getting back to the hospitals, carefully considering the data, what staff think and feel, and what the official guidance is.

We might find ourselves facing some new restrictions. We’ve all seen the news over the last 24 hours, and anticipate further changes beyond the local restrictions and the rule of 6. It’s awful to think about a step back like this. However, you know exactly where we’re at and that we’ve examined this on a case by case basis. Everything we said before is still the case.

We are keeping a careful eye on the hospitals, because if we do have any vulnerability it will be there. Hospitals acted very quickly last time so we trust them to act swiftly again. I can assure you when it comes to any decision making that I will always be risk averse, as the person ultimately responsible for everyone’s safety.

Q: What’s the long-term goal for remote and office working? Particularly for Response Line (RL) workers. What can we expect for the future?

We are currently conducting a premise review. Short term we can work at home and we know we can do this for the foreseeable future.

Medium term we may have some further issues, in terms of working out if we need the three premises. If we don’t, where would we be?

You might remember we previously worked out that we could safely house 15 ‘bums on seats’ at any one time. We will aim to have these individuals spread out across the county. In terms of the RL, if we have three places it would make sense to have space for a RL table in each. We know we don’t need the current capacity of 45. It is highly likely there will be office space for RL, but probably not in the same way we’ve had it previously.

The review is still taking place. You can imagine this is a large piece of work in terms of where we are now and where we need to be. This also includes our need to provide face to face contact with our carers.

Q: Having had conversations with other staff members over the last week, we are feeling really drained to think we have to go through all of this again. Following the news we had a lot of calls on the RL yesterday. Last lockdown we were really on it, helping get access to supermarkets, priority testing etc. It was a really busy period. However, last time carers were barred from the hospital but now that this isn’t the case we have carers who have covid themselves. I think it plays on emotions more when it’s carers being ill. I just wonder how others feel about it.

I felt a tightness in my chest on Tuesday when the announcement came out. This hasn’t taken us by surprise, we knew it would be September but I think we all hoped it wouldn’t be so soon.

We’ve already talked about how we need to think about how we support vulnerable carers. We need to learn from what we did in March, how we balance this in terms of RL shifts. We have started up the focus groups, so we know that our carers are wiped out, which means we’re wiped out in turn. We need to work out together how to put our best foot forward, but in a different way than we did last time.

What I do know is that we can do this. We have proved that we can keep the business of supporting carers going. We know this is hard, but we have a supportive team. You know that I will be decisive, I won’t leave our floundering.

Q: When will our Christmas leave requests be approved?

We are waiting for all RL shifts to be covered ahead of leave being open. Hopefully this should be by the end of next week.

Wellbeing notice from Suzana Shepperd

We have created a Wellbeing Working Party to tackle some of the issues that have been cropping up. Three main objectives:

-to review current offer of what’s available to staff and volunteers

-what additional support we can offer to minimise the effects of remote working

-what different methods we can use to promote wellbeing

This is a pilot project which will be reviewed after 12 weeks. We’ve had three meetings, conducted a survey and examined the feedback from staff. We have now drafted a programme for staff wellbeing which is now being finalised. The main focus is the social aspects, as there are online support resources but we’re missing the personal touch.

One of the events is a virtual canteen, so people can join together to have lunch and a catch up. The next option is a book club, meeting every 5 weeks. Another option is a virtual art/photography group. We also have the idea of a yoga group, learning a language group and a quiz.

Strategy Refresh Carer Engagement Survey: results so far

In terms of the Five Big Ideas, survey respondents ranked them in the following order:

1) Reduce financial hardship as a result of providing unpaid care, 2) Improving identification of carers as expert partners in care in all NHS settings, 3) Funding for carers’ breaks increased to provide more respite options, 4) Raising public awareness of carers and caring, and 5) More support for carers to return to work alongside or after caring.

19th August 20202020-09-21T13:24:46+01:00

Q: Regarding the working at home payment, will this continue?

A: In June this was agreed for another three months, so we have until the end of September to renew this again. We could keep rolling this on but it could also be part of a wider conversation around what happens next, along with the Risk Assessments and a look at what the office situation will be. It will always be our intention to support employees, so it wouldn’t be a case of ‘This isn’t affordable’ but rather what would be best for the organisation. I will try to communicate something about this as soon as I can, which will probably be early September.

Q: What is the current status of the risk assessments?

A: Hopefully you should all have a general awareness of these, as you’ve either had individual meetings with your team leaders or you’ve been involved in meetings around the hospital teams etc. We have been discussing if we can support carers in person, most likely through something like the walking groups. As we know, last week it was too hot and this week it is too wet! So we know it will be a challenge.

Our work is always going to remain carer-focused. We have been into offices to conduct risk assessments, to establish whether we can undertake carer assessments in the office and what would need to happen to make sure this is secure. This has been our focus. At this point we haven’t focused on office working, however we have separately been looking at individual risk and needs. Some of you have fed back that you really would like to be in the office at least one day a week. However, you can see in the flow chart that there is a process which needs to happen first. Office for carer face-to-face assessments has been the priority.

We are also undertaking the premises review which was always going to be on the agenda for this year. Now the two things have come together. Before we had about 45 seats across the offices, for about 90 staff and 80 volunteers, so already the need is much smaller.

Q: Christina looked after her husband for 9 years before putting him in a care home for the past 3 years.  Christina has seen the survey on our Dementia Newsletter asking people to tell of the impact of the Covid-19 situation and has completed it.  Christina felt the impact even more acutely once she had done that and decided to call in to speak to us on the RL. 

Christina describes the past 5 months as distressing to say the least.  However, her current experience is proving even more harrowing in that the impact of not being able to see her husband in a “normal way” is proving more distressing than anything else.  Christina says that the government guidelines are open to interpretation for each care home.  Christina cannot fault the care home and has “no qualms with the care”.  What makes no sense is that the rules that apply to the paid care workers cannot be applied to unpaid carers visiting their loved ones.  Christina asks, “Why can’t next of kin be treated the same as paid carers?  Why are we not recognized as key workers in this situation too?  I would like to have as normal a life as is possible with my husband before he goes.”  At the moment they are able to have a 2M socially distanced and time limited visit in the garden.  When visiting a few days ago, Christina’s husband got up to come to her.  A paid care worker supervising, told him off and said, “If you go over to your wife she will not be able to visit you again.”  The carer has put in a formal complaint, but obviously this adds to an already distressing situation.  Christina has to already cope with what has been a “dramatic” change in her husband in the past 5 months.  Christina admits, “This is so distressing.  I cannot sleep at night and am being treated for depression.”  Christina says that prior to lock down she would help with care for her husband wearing PPE if necessary, particularly if he was uncooperative with staff.  She asks, “What is the difference?  I live alone.  Am very careful where I go.  I would take the same precautions.  The paid care workers are going home to families and going out and about.  They can also test negative one day and positive the next.”

A: This is something we have been working at recently, and we shared the latest letter from the commissioner on the RL wiki site. We had permission from Christina to share this story with the local authorities, the commissioner, and Healthwatch West Sussex etc. so they know what carers are going through. There might not be specific solutions right now but it is important that we make carers voices heard. If I hear anything else I will share this with you all. West Sussex is currently on a Green alert level so you should be able to arrange visits, but this is at the discretion of the individual care home and is often down to their insurance.


-We’ve been told we can only visit a loved one every 3 weeks, and can now only call once a week. This is of course very difficult to deal with.

-We were in a meeting with volunteers yesterday. One of them has a husband in a nearby care home, and she was very distressed in the meeting. She had been visiting every week to bring fruit but she now finds it too distressing to see her husband so briefly. She does have a support network, so it isn’t loneliness, but she finds it very difficult to see her husband in those circumstances. She has decided not to visit him anymore.

A: I know it’s a small thing but the fact that the volunteer gave permission to share her story this lead us to getting the letter back from the commissioner, so do feed back to her that it did have that impact. As long as we have permission we can keep sharing these stories with the local authority.

Q: What are we doing to communicate with domiciliary carer services?

A: We are currently looking into having a professionals bulletin, so this would be to care homes and to domestic care providers. We know that sometimes we only get a 30% open rate for this sort of communication but it is good to have something at least. We’re hoping to have this out mid next week. If there is anyone you think should be on this list then do send it over to Christine.

Q: We were told today about the email going out to all carers, but I have to ask again: what are we doing for those who aren’t online? We have the contact details for those who aren’t on email, and I know that there is a financial concern here but I think it needs to be a priority. We also haven’t had a newsletter this year.

A: We sent out the ‘We are still here’ cards, and this cost £4000. There are currently 7000 people on our database who don’t have an email address, and if we could reduce this as much as possible it will keep the costs down. So if you’re speaking to someone on the RL and you see that they don’t have an email address please do ask.

As well as the email which went out today, we have paid for print adverts and for radio adverts. So it isn’t that we’re ignoring the offline carers, we are just trying to think about this in a different way. With the Carer Engagement Survey we are sending out a paper survey to 10% of the 7000 carers with a pre-paid envelope. We have had some funding to help with digital exclusion, this isn’t a lot but it is something. We keep trying to address this, and we are working on it.

The newsletter has been suspended as this would normally be put in libraries, and as we had no way to distribute this it was deemed not a necessary cost at this time. We could have another discussion about this.

We have piggy backed off the mail outs that WSCC send out, and we have a good relationship with their Comms team. We had our contact details included in their last newsletter, which went into all households in the county.

30th July 20202020-09-21T13:35:28+01:00

Q- In your latest CEO update email on Monday, you shared the latest Commissioners report. On page nine, it gives some results of a survey we asked our carers. There is a section on what they think about staff helpfulness etc, and we’re meeting 100% on all of those. However, the following section asked Carers how they’re doing, if they feel informed and about their health and wellbeing. For these questions the percentages are a lot lower, between 31.82% and 81.82%. I’m sure you’re working on ways to improve these, but could you share what they are?

A:If you look at the reports being released by Carers UK, and hearing what Carers are talking about on the Response Line, they are often in a desperate state in terms of loneliness, finances etc. We are currently doing work to engage them further. It’s not about asking them the same questions again but more, what can we do? How can we help?

We’re in danger as a society that any progress made for the vulnerable is now being rolled back. You’re right, it is a constant question in terms of what we do to support these Carers.

It is heart breaking to read these responses. We just need to work out how we can better support these carers. We are working with WSCC and planning on how we can continue to support them.

Q- I heard this morning that we can start posting things out again for those carers who don’t use email. As we deal with the elderly I think we are missing a trick with the number of people who just aren’t getting this information. We have had a request for more leaflets for the hospital, but currently don’t have the resources to provide them. Has there been a change in policy to allow us to send out this material?

A: There are a number of people who aren’t online: out of the 26,000+ carers on our database, around 7,000 haven’t given us permission to email them. When we started lockdown with the We Are Still Here for You campaign, we did send out hard copies to these 7,000. This is unfortunately quite expensive to do.

Currently we are working to get funding to work with people who are digitally excluded. We’re hoping to hear back from Carers Trust next week about this.

The GP citizens online survey shows where we have problems in the county with digital exclusion, especially in coastal areas like Bognor, who don’t have access to online.

In terms of sending out leaflets to your team, I would have to defer to Siobhan to see what the answer to that is. There is something about only using this postal service as needed, not just blanket sending leaflets out. It needs to pass the tests: is it really needed, what is the risk, is it a good use of our funds?

Local libraries are offering digital support for those who are digitally excluded. The problem is, how sustainable is this? For example, if we go into a second wave. It’s also a matter of affordability, both for the equipment, data etc.

Q- I’ve enjoyed participating in the Task and Finish groups: what will happen next?

A: We were discussing these in this morning’s resilience meeting. There has been significant learning from working together in this way. From next week there will be a more formal feedback. From the formal feedback we will identify the learning, and anything we can do to implement the models these teams have come up with.

We need to think about the role of the RL in our charity and how they can provide the best emotional support.

There isn’t an organisation in the county right now who isn’t thinking about how they can develop their services. COVID has potentially shown us what people really need.

One of the main things we’ve learned is how beneficial it is to work across different teams and learn from each other.

We all knew anyway that there were things in the charity that needed addressing and were already working on our Strategy this year. What COVID has done is put a big magnifying glass over it, both speeding it up and slowing it down. Some of the things which might have been trickier we have had to start to do, for example providing wellbeing support through call backs to vulnerable carers.

Rest assured that these Task groups were not for nothing and we are absolutely working to action the points raised during these discussions.

Q- A question that is arising a lot right now is caring for a loved one receiving palliative care or a bereaved carer. We all use our instincts, but it struck me that Training or support as a way to deal with this issue.

A: We plan to continue with Lynn Bertram’s reflective sessions, and this will be a good opportunity to reflect on this.

We also had a discussion this morning about vicarious trauma and the difficulties around getting on the training. We are looking at ways to implement these within our Learning and Development programme.

We have been speaking to training providers about offering virtual alternatives to this training.

Comments: Staff share some useful reading material on this subject, including Dear Life by Rachel Clarke, Radical Acts of Love by Janie Brown, On Grief and Grieving by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and With The End in Mind by Kathryn Mannix.

Q- I know we’ve started doing virtual groups but in my team a lot of our carers don’t want to be in a large video chat, and also aren’t comfortable on the phone. Will we be able to do one-to-ones in a virtual format?

A: Next week the Team Leaders are looking at the Carer Support Groups and seeing what we’ve achieved with these virtual groups but also where the gaps are and what the needs are. What I will do is make sure that as part of those discussions that your point about one to one zooms is included. This will be very helpful for some carers.

The idea of face to face meetings is quite polarising, with some carers wanting to have them and some not comfortable with the idea yet. So to have a third option would be very useful.


Sonia: I wanted to ask you about wellbeing. In every CEO update, Duty Manager email, and all our discussions we remind you about wellbeing. However, life is very difficult, especially when you’re making contact with Carers at the moment, as they are at the end of their tethers, and that is obviously hard for you to hear.

So, I just wanted to ask, is there anything else we can do to improve matters? For example, further reducing the hours of the day that meetings can be booked. Or holding more wellbeing sessions, like a yoga session or a quiz.

It would also be helpful to know if anything we are doing is helpful.

Comments: I think having an actual session booked in would mean we are more likely to actually do it and take the time out. That’s if the time allows. Not to be negative but we are being bombarded more and more with these changes. Both daily changes and as our role develops.

Comments: I think Workplace Options is quite underused. I rang them and they sent through some virtual yoga sessions, and the person on the phone was wonderfully down to earth and easy to speak to.

Risk Assessments

We have started working on our Risk Assessments. The priority was the Hospital teams and the Carer Assessment teams. The next part will be in two phases, with the first phase on partner face to face and the second, carer face to face.

The next phase will be the Carer Support groups and thinking what it would be like if we did start to offer some of these again. It could be a walk-in group, one in each district etc.

I am trying to avoid the language of ‘Going back’ as that implies we aren’t doing anything currently, but as we all know we are currently doing a lot! It’s about adding something more.

At the moment nothing big is taking place, but we wanted to start sharing these Risk Assessments with you so you have an idea what will happen.

9th July 20202020-09-21T13:19:45+01:00


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.


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: 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.

16th June 20202020-09-21T13:19:35+01:00

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.

26th May 20202020-09-21T13:19:26+01:00

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.

7th May 20202020-09-21T13:19:15+01:00

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.

24th April 20202020-09-21T13:15:28+01:00

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.

8th April 20202020-09-21T12:57:52+01:00

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.