Helping Hands Community Care, the largest independent homecare organisation operating across Northumberland, has become a key part of the frontline in the fight against the coronavirus outbreak.
We have been managing one of the biggest logistical and organisational challenges in our 30-year history.
Our dedicated team of more than 500 homecare support workers are travelling around homes providing vital services to the elderly, disabled and vulnerable people during this crisis.
Management has had to cope with increased staff shortages as personnel have been self-isolating, showing symptoms or COVID-19 and shielding because of other underlying health issues. Recruitment had been stepped up to fast-track new homecare workers into the organisation.
Social distancing rules meant that branch offices in both Hexham and Cramlington had to be reorganised and transfer to a new system of remote, home-based working.
There has been the constant struggle to secure greater supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) – gloves, aprons and face masks – with normal supply sources failing under an unprecedented demand for supplies nationally and globally. Northumberland County Council recently supplied a large quantity of face masks to Helping Hands, with management securing extra supplies from other sources. This has allowed staff to wear masks on all care calls and not just those that were classed as high risk.
Homecare workers agreed to cancel all planned holidays to support the effort to support existing service users while also preparing for other contingencies, including the ability to fast-track emergency discharges from hospitals if they reached full capacity.
As a result of all the changing issues and raised anxieties among staff, service users and their families, communications were stepped up to ensure regular updates to all the different groups via the Helping Hands App, social media, the website and telephone helpline.
David Harrison, MD of Helping Hands, said: “To say that this is quite unlike any other situation or crisis the organisation has faced is an understatement. The challenges have been significant and the stress on the support team and families we support has been constant.
“I am so proud of how everyone across the organisation has stepped up to meet this challenge. Understandably, there has been a lot of anxiety created by the virus and calls for more PPE. There have been huge frustrations trying to meet demand and I must thank Northumberland County Council for helping in sourcing much needed PPE.
“Our investment in technology in recent years has proved an enormous asset during this crisis. This has allowed us to quickly communicate our own information along with the latest guidelines from Public Health England and other government and healthcare authorities.”
He hopes that one of the positive long-term outcomes of the crisis will be a re-evaluation of the important role played by social care organisations like Helping Hands; that the public will see them in a different light after the lockdown is lifted and that politicians finally come up with the much-promised long-term arrangements that provide adequate funding for the sector while also strengthening the links between the NHS and social care.