Sandy Watt, Sessional Mental Health Officer, North Lanarkshire Health and Social Care Partnership

Phase 1 story (Spring / Summer 2020)

How have you been able to keep a focus on what matters to people during COVID?

Acknowledging with service users the difficulties the current crisis has caused for them and us all, and keeping attention to detail on what matters to people as individuals. By demonstrating to the service users you will remain steady and responsive to their situation no matter what the external factors are.

What have you had to do differently and what made this possible?

Using video technology and telephone for all contacts with service users as opposed to visiting is the biggest difference many of us have had to adapt to. Partner agencies have been helpful in facilitating the use of video calling-laptop and smart phones provided for staff have made home working feasible although network/server connection issues can make it challenging. Everyone within the organisation is potentially available via skype business and email.

What have you noticed that has been better?

There has been a feeling of people making an extra effort to pull together despite/ because of the current crisis. Everyone asks for each other’s welfare, colleagues and service users, with an acute awareness of how this virus can impact on us all no matter what our personal circumstances are.

How did this make you feel? 

It helps to reaffirm my belief that we all have the capacity to be in touch with our human spirit and during a crisis it tends to strip away people’s preconceptions making it easier to connect with one another.

What have you learned through this? 

That we are all vulnerable to major changes in our life that we have no control to prevent. That local authorities and partner organisations can work together more effectively when the common purpose is stark but unifying.

Anything else you want to tell us? 

The value in direct face to face contact and visiting people in their own home environment can never be adequately replaced by video/telephone contact; however local health and social care authorities covering remote areas have for a number of years had no option but to use such technology given the shortage of staff to cover such wide areas-these organisations have shown how the technology can be used creatively and effectively for the benefit of the service user’s outcomes and that of the organisations.

Phase 2 story (Autumn 2020)

What has continued to help keep a focus on what matters for people during the  pandemic? 

The need to sustain contact with service users under the protracted prevalence of the  virus and associated restrictions on everyday lives has been reinforced via regular updates  from North Lanarkshire Council, national and local organisations.

Are there changes that seem to be lasting longer term and are there things that have  slid back to old ways of doing things?  

Biggest single change since the pandemic with video, telephone and email contact being  established as the default methods of contact has remained at the same high level and is unlikely to go back to the previous ways of working. Acknowledging how difficult it is for  us all to manage our lives remains an essential element in our contacts with service users  and colleagues. We need to remain aware of the need to consider each person’s capacity  and preference for communication by remaining person centred and not taking a one size  fits all approach.

What difference has this made to people? 

People have responded positively to the shared experience approach and this helps  diffuse some of the anxiety that we have all had to bear for the last 7 months.

How did this make you feel?  

The expression I’ve heard many times during this pandemic is that it brings out the worst  and the best in people and I feel heartened that it is the latter response which remains  prominent. However, it will be in the weeks and months ahead post pandemic when this  approach will be equally important.

Reflecting on your experiences what have you learned? 

Given the incredibly large scale of what had to happen to continue operating as a  responsive service I’ve been pleasantly surprised how well North Lanarkshire Council have coped with the  technological/logistic challenges of switching from office to home based working.

What difference has it made to you to tell your story as part of this project?

It has been interesting for me to reflect on the pandemic impact from this perspective, from an operational point of view.

Anything else you want to tell us?  

On a personal level whilst the technology for agile working has worked well, I miss being  part of a team with a physical location. Direct person to person contact with service users  and colleagues should continue to be the default approach for North Lanarkshire Council and all local authority  front line social work services if and when this becomes feasible in the future.