Care Home Visits in Northumberland

Our public forum on care home visits in November produced some really interesting and insightful discussion. We talked about how people are keeping in touch with loved ones in care homes during the pandemic, the effect on those in the homes, particularly those with dementia, and the effect on relatives, plus what would help, going forward and throughout the winter to make the situation easier.

Further to the issues raised at the forum, where people told us they were unclear on what care homes can or can’t do in terms of visits, we asked Liz Morgan, Director of Public Health in Northumberland for information. She shared the guidance on visiting that has been sent to every care home in the county, which can be found below.

We are hoping to hold another Zoom forum around these visits in the coming months, and in the meantime please keep sharing your experiences of care home visits.

Tell us your experiences of:

  • Using video calls (FaceTime, Zoom etc.) or telephone calls – does the home support these? How many times a week and how long? Does a member of staff help your loved one with the call?
  • Socially distanced visits – does the home support ‘window’ visits.  How many times a week and how for long?
  • How does the home keep you informed about how your loved one is getting on (apart from necessary issues about their care or health), for example, manager updates, photographs, videos
  • Does the home have a programme of group and one-to-one activities? Has your loved one taken part?
  • Has the home asked you what, within the current restrictions, would make this time easier?
  • What, within the current restrictions, would make it better for you and your love one?
  • When restrictions are eventually eased (not totally lifted) what would help you and your loved one?

Get in touch

Care Home Guidance on visits November 2020

Letter to Care Homes November 2020

Let’s Talk: Audiology Services Report

After receiving significant feedback from people in Northumberland about the end of the Hear to Help service provided by charity Action on Hearing Loss, we decided to investigate the potential impact on service users.

Hear to Help was a drop-in service delivered in community locations including libraries and GP surgeries. The drop-in service provided advice and information for people experiencing hearing loss, as well as performing general hearing aid/s maintenance, such as replacing tubes and batteries.The Hear to Help service stopped on 30 April 2019.

Feedback we received suggested that some people appreciated the service and did not want it to be withdrawn. We took a deeper look at the impact, if any, of the withdrawal of this service and to build a greater awareness and understanding of what people in Northumberland want and need in services to support with hearing loss.

It should be noted this work was done before the Covid-19 pandemic and the resultant change to services. However, the issues raised by respondents, particularly about communication, remain relevant now and in the future.



We wanted to find out:

  1. What do people in Northumberland think of audiology services?
  2. What audiology services are available for the people of Northumberland?
  3. What is good about audiology services in the county?
  4. What could be better about audiology services in the county?



Location of hearing loss services was a key area of discussion

  • More than 50% of people we asked said it was easy for them to travel to an audiology clinic
  • Some people were happy they did not need to travel to Newcastle
  • Some people said the clinic was in a bad location with accessibility issues, seasonal transport issues, and public transport combined with limited clinic opening hours
  • People who found it easy to access clinics used a range of different transport modes
  • We are unlikely to have heard from the most isolated, vulnerable people in the county People who live rurally, with mobility issues, or limited social networks, and lower incomes, are likely to find it hardest to access hearing care clinics
  • Some patients were supported by a carer or friend to attend a clinic or understand their care – a gap for patients in accessing or receiving hearing care independently
  • Few people told us they used patient/community transport services to access a clinic

Information about and awareness of services was another key area of discussion

  • We signposted people to: transport services, audiology clinics, and voluntary groups (like Carers Northumberland), showing a lack of awareness/information availability
  • Some people were aware of hearing aid/s battery locations, whilst others were not
  • One patient spoke about an information form given with their hearing aid/s used to support them to live with hearing aid/s. Contrastingly, 48% of people said they had not been offered training, advice, or support for living with hearing loss
  • Some people believed the onus was on the person experiencing hearing loss to ask rather than professionals to let them know what support was available
  • 10 of 11 people in our focus group did not know of the hearing aid/s postal service
  • Some people were not physically able to clean or retube their own hearing aid/s due to dexterity problems, vision impairment, or not feeling confident enough
  • 23% of people we asked agreed they had felt isolated as a result of their hearing loss

Drop in vs appointments

  • Most people preferred drop-ins to appointments, finding them easier or more convenient
  • In our focus group most patients preferred appointments to drop-ins
  • Many patients were satisfied with the current audiology appointment system
  • Interestingly patients gave similar reasons for their preference of either appointments or drop-ins – ease of managing transport arrangements as a priority
  • 42% of patients would like to be told it was their turn to be seen by someone calling out their name. Some patients liked the idea of having a board with their name on
  • 62% of patients we spoke to agreed the waiting time for their appointment was reasonable 71% of people agreed their appointment gave them ‘time to talk’
  • 52% of people said they had their hearing aid/s serviced at the right time for them

Regular hearing aid/s maintenance and NHS audiology services

  • People were positive about the quality of care provided in audiology clinics. People praised the staff and were satisfied they got what they needed from the service
  • It is advised that hearing aid/s tubing is replaced every three to six months. 42% of patients had their hearing aid/s maintained in the last six months, and 46% had not
  • Many people we spoke to were able to clean and change batteries in their hearing aid/s but could not change their tubes
  • Some patients said they had waited a while to receive their new hearing aids
  • People told us that not all hearing aid/s batteries/tubes were available everywhere
  • Some patients said they found face to face communication easiest. Many services now offer a phone appointment system, a barrier to people with hearing loss

Hear to Help service

  • Hear to Help was an important service for people experiencing hearing loss
  • People at the Bell View focus group said the service had helped to show them how to maintain their hearing aid/s, and given them tube cleaners

Read the Full Report

Virtual NHS Consultations

recent survey for the British Medical Association showed that 95% of GPs are now offering remote consultations and 88% want to see greater use of them continue in the future.

Whilst people previously told us that they welcome the idea of the NHS making better use of new technology to help make care more convenient, people’s experiences of telephone, video, and email consultations to date have been more mixed.

For some, they are working well, and many previously sceptical individuals have been converted following a positive experience. For others, these types of appointments have introduced new barriers to care.

So how can we make sure that this revolution in the way care is delivered works for everyone?

What makes a virtual appointment good?

Last week Healthwatch England published the findings of some rapid research conducted in partnership with Traverse and National Voices. Involving people who have had a virtual consultation during the pandemic, this report provides useful insights for NHS services and individual clinicians.

Key findings and recommendations

Arranging a virtual consultation:

  • Feeling safe and comfortable – It’s important for people to feel safe, comfortable and that they have a confidential space in which to talk about their medical concerns. Most of those we spoke to hadn’t received any information in advance about how the appointment would work or what they could do to help. It would be useful for patients to be alerted to this fact beforehand so that they can prepare for their appointment.
  • Making the benefits known – Secondly, to realise the benefits of people not having to travel to appointments, patients need a reasonable time window for their appointment. Where people are not given this, it leads to increased frustration, with missed calls or unexpected delays creating anxiety.
  • Getting the format right
    Most of those we spoke to had telephone consultations, but a significant number felt that video would have been better.

We heard examples where people’s level of digital literacy had not been assessed before the appointment. There were also examples discussed where people felt remote consultations would never be appropriate, such as delivering bad news following a diagnosis.

During the appointment itself

Giving people the time they need

Whichever form of remote consultation is used, people were clear that it must not mean a compromise on the quality of the interaction. Appointments must not feel rushed, patients need to feel listened to and clinicians must have all the information they need to hand.

“I didn’t know what to expect. The physio created space to ask about how I was doing. I felt heard and was able to ask questions. It was refreshing. A normal physio session would be in a crowded room, five minutes instructions, you practice the movement, they pop back after seeing other people and ask you how you are getting on, it’s rushed. I see about 15-20 health professionals a year and this is the most person-centred session I have had.”

– Maria, physiotherapy patient.

Test, learn and improve

Seek feedback

As with any significant change it is important to seek feedback and to learn from what works and what needs improvement. Yet most participants in our research reported that they weren’t asked for feedback about their remote consultation experience.When we asked them for suggestions, they identified many ways in which remote consultations could be made better. For example, enabling sessions to be recorded and played back later so people can confirm they have understood, or introducing closed captioning to help those with hearing loss.

Overall, one of the biggest learning points was around quality. While some people in the health and care system may see remote consultations as a way of delivering care more efficiently, it is clear that any impact on quality will likely see a significant drop-off in people willing to access care in this way.

Getting the most out of the virtual health and care experience

Coronavirus: What is Shielding?

People that have been identified from their medical records as being at highest risk of severe illness resulting in hospitalisation if they catch coronavirus (Covid-19) have been contacted by the government to start ‘shielding’ themselves.

The letter strongly advises people to rigorously follow the guidance, which includes staying at home at all times for at least 12 weeks.

The following Q&A, based on information provided by government aims to help you get some of the answers you need.

What does ‘shielding’ mean? 

Shielding is the word used to describe how to protect those at highest risk of severe illness if they catch coronavirus. You can shield yourself following the government guidance, and shield others by minimising all interaction between yourself and those who are most at risk.

How do I shield myself?

If you think you have a condition which makes you extremely vulnerable or have received a letter from NHS England you are strongly advised to shield yourself, to reduce the chance of getting coronavirus (COVID-19). This means following the face-to-face distancing measures below:

  1. Strictly avoid contact with someone who is displaying symptoms of coronavirus
  2. These symptoms include high temperature and/or new and continuous cough
  3. Do not leave your house
  4. Do not attend any gatherings. This includes gatherings of friends and families in private spaces, for example, family homes, weddings and religious services
  5. Do not go out for shopping, leisure or travel and, when arranging food or medication deliveries, these should be left at the door to minimise contact
  6. Keep in touch using remote technology such as phone, internet, and social media


Do use telephone or online services to contact your GP or other essential services.

How long do I shield myself for?

You are strongly advised to stay at home at all times and avoid any face-to-face contact for a period of at least 12 weeks from the day you receive your letter.

How do I get food and medication if I’m shielding?

Ask family, friends and neighbours to support you and use online services. The Government has also set up a dedicated website and helpline where you can go for wider support. Please register now if you have received the letter so that the government can start putting in place people to help:

Tel: 0800 028 8327

This service can help answer any questions you may have, such as:

How do I get food shopping?

How do I buy medicine?

How do I pick up prescriptions?

I haven’t received a letter, but I think I am in the high-risk group – what should I do?

If you have not received a letter by 30 March, but feel you are within the high-risk category, you should contact your GP or hospital team. If you are unsure, check the list on the website to see if you are in the most at risk/ extremely vulnerable group.

I’m worried that shielding is going to affect my mental health – what do I do?

Try to stay in touch with those around you over the phone, by post or online. Let people know how you would like to stay in touch and build that into your routine. This is important in looking after your mental wellbeing and you may find it helpful to talk to them about how you are feeling if you want to.

Remember, it is okay to share your concerns with others you trust and in doing so you may end up providing support to them too. Or you might want to try an NHS recommended helpline.


Project to get Voices Heard

Last year we launched the Your Voice Fund, and awarded four small grants to local organisations which will run projects with their service users.

These projects will help us gather the views of people whose experiences we don’t hear enough about, in particular, people with learning disabilities, people from LGBTQ+ communities, young people, black, asian and minority ethnic communities and people living in Northumberland through asylum or refugee resettlement programmes.

Northumberland County Blind Association will be holding workshops and focus groups with 150 visually impaired people, bringing people’s experiences and views on health and social care services together in order to influence and inform service providers and decision makers.

Northumberland County Council Youth Council will use the grant to create wallet cards, digital graphics and posters to share with schools, youth and health settings to promote self-care and mental health support services that are available to children and young people.

A Creative Café will be held at Headway Arts in Blyth, for 30 people with a learning disability and their carers to discuss their experience of the healthcare system in a safe and supportive environment.  The event will be filmed and people’s thoughts presented through a video piece.

Being Woman, based in Ashington and Blyth, will also use the grant to support a conversation café activity called ‘KITES – when you are your own voice’. Here, 50 people from various ethnic backgrounds and at risk of social isolation can share ideas, thoughts and experiences of health and social care services which will be reported back to those running and paying for services.

Healthwatch Northumberland Project Coordinator Derry Nugent says “We’re really happy to work with these local organisations who can help us listen to the care experiences of those we don’t hear from very much. These projects will help us share people’s voices with the service providers and decision makers and help make services better for residents of Northumberland. “

Fareeha Usman, Founder of Being Woman says “This project will help underrepresented communities have their say on health and social care services, in a safe environment. The KITES cafe will help us remove barriers and promote equal access to local services to the migrant and BAME population in Northumberland.”

Allie Walton-Robson, Creative Director at Headway Arts says “We’re inviting people to come along to our Creative Café in Blyth on Thursday 21 May for a nice cup of tea, a chat and a chilled out creative workshop. This time we are working with Healthwatch Northumberland and focusing our chat on healthcare to offer disabled people a real chance to provide feedback on their experiences. On the day we will be welcoming people along to enjoy our beginners painting workshop using lovely vibrant colours and to try out print making with our PrintAble artists. It’s a relaxing session and also a time to talk about experiences whilst feeling supported to do so.”

We look forward to sharing the results of the project with you later in the year.

BID Services Northumberland

BID Sight Loss Drop In Service

BID Services is a charity working in partnership with children, young people and adults and their families and carers. It supports people who are deaf, hard of hearing, visually impaired or have a dual sensory loss. Specialist service areas include advocacy, employment, British Sign Language interpreting and training, rehabilitation and mobility training, specialist equipment, residential care, social work, support for tinnitus and housing related services.

BID Services Northumberland is trying to further promote services across the community by having promotional tables at a range of venues for people to come along and discuss sight loss. There will be equipment on display and information leaflets available on different sight conditions. The people manning the table are qualified professionals within the sight loss area and are able to answer any questions you may have. Please see below where you can go and when to have a chat with the BID Services team.

For more information call 01670 293150.


Prudhoe Waterworld

Monday 17 February, 2.00pm – 4.00pm

Thursday 25 June, 2.00pm – 4.00pm

Friday 23 October, 1.30pm – 3.30pm


Wentworth Leisure Centre, Hexham

Monday 17 February, 11.00am – 1.00pm

Tuesday 25 June, 11.00am – 1.00pm

Friday 23 October, 10.30am – 12.30pm


Swan Centre, Berwick

Monday 20 January, 10.30am – 12.30pm

Wednesday 20 May, 10.30am – 12.30pm

Thursday 24 September, 10.30am – 12.30pm


Willowburn Leisure Centre, Alnwick

Monday 20 January, 2.00pm – 4.00pm

Wednesday 20 May, 2.00pm – 4.00pm

Thursday 24 September, 2.00pm – 4.00pm


Ashington Leisure Centre

Monday 20 April, 2.30pm – 4.30pm

Wednesday 19 August, 2.30pm – 4.30pm

Friday 4 December, 2.00pm – 4.00pm


Riverside Leisure Centre, Morpeth

Monday 20 April, 11.30am – 1.30pm

Wednesday 19 August, 11.30am – 1.30pm

Friday 4 December, 11.00am – 1.00pm


Blyth Sports Centre

Wednesday 25 March, 11.30am – 1.30pm

Thursday 23 July, 11.30am – 1.30pm

Friday 20 November, 11.00am – 1..00pm


Concordia Leisure Centre, Cramlington

Wednesday 25 March, 2.30pm – 4.30pm

Thursday 23 July, 2.30pm – 4.30pm

Friday 20 November, 2.00pm – 4.00pm







Communication and Marketing Assistant

We are looking for a Communication and Marketing Assistant to join our team.

Communication and Marketing Assistant

Part time – 20 hours per week

Permanent dependent on funding

Based at Adapt (NE), Hexham

Salary: £20,395 per annum pro rata (£11,024.32 per annum – actual)

Closing date for applications: midnight, Wednesday 29 January

Interview date: 5 February 2020


Could this be you?

  • Are you passionate about improving local NHS and social care services?
  • Do you enjoy talking to people and listening to their experiences?
  • Can you create content that is engaging and accessible?

Healthwatch Northumberland is the independent champion for people who use health and social care services.  By joining our committed and enthusiastic team you will have the opportunity to use your communication skills to give a voice to people who use those services, influence positive change to services and help meet the health and social care needs of our communities.

Below you will find the application form, job description and a link to our latest annual report.

If you would like an informal discussion about the role and Healthwatch Northumberland, contact Claire Jackson, Communication and Marketing Officer:, 03332 408468.

Healthwatch Northumberland Communication and Marketing Assistant job description and person specification

Healthwatch Northumberland Communication and Marketing Assistant application form

Healthwatch Northumberland Annual Report 2018/19


Director of Public Health Annual Report 2018

The 2018 Director of Public Health Annual Report focuses on Mental Health and Wellbeing.

The report asks, ‘why is mental health important?’
‘Over the last few decades there has rightly been a focus on reducing the number of premature deaths from heart disease and stroke. Across the whole of the county’s population, about 45% of all deaths are due to five causes and heart disease and stroke still cause nearly 30% of all deaths.

There is quite a difference though between the conditions that people are dying of and the conditions which contribute to disability and ill health during life. Mental ill health makes a significant contribution to ill health and
in some groups, is the major cause of death and ill health. For instance in men aged 15 – 49, nearly 30% of deaths are attributable to mental illness.’

View the Report



Whalton Unit Morpeth

Whalton Unit Drop-in Sessions

Whalton Unit,  Morpeth

People in Morpeth and the surrounding area are being given the opportunity to have their say about the temporary relocation of the Whalton Unit to Wansbeck General Hospital.  NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) in partnership with Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, is holding public drop-in sessions in Morpeth and carrying out independent research to find out the community’s views.


Public drop in sessions

11 September: Corn Exchange, Morpeth Town Hall, 10am – 2pm

11 September: Corn Exchange, Morpeth Town Hall, 4pm – 7pm

12 September: Morpeth NHS Centre, 10am – 12pm

13 September: Morpeth Leisure Centre, 11am – 1pm

24 September: Morpeth Leisure Centre, 10am – 12pm

26 September: Morpeth NHS Centre, 12.30pm – 2.30pm

1 October: Wansbeck General Hospital, main reception 10am – 11am, south entrance 12pm – 1pm

3 October: Corn Exchange, Morpeth Town Hall, 3pm – 7pm


People are also able to complete an online survey



The Whalton Unit provides specialist care and rehabilitation for residents, predominantly frail older patients. It was temporarily relocated from Morpeth to Wansbeck hospital in December 2018 due to nurse staffing issues and an expected increase in activity over the winter period.

This decision was reviewed in April 2019 by the trust and there was an agreement to extend the temporary location pending an updated report to enable a longer timeline for the impact analysis, with a specific focus on the experience of patients.

Prior to making any long term recommendations the CCG and the trust have agreed to this programme of public engagement and independent research to understand the views of the local population in more detail. The findings from both the independent research and engagement activity will be collated and shared with the Northumberland Health and Wellbeing Overview and Scrutiny Committee in November.

Mental health and the Journey to Parenthood

Find out what’s working well for people and what needs to improve when it comes to people about their mental health experiences before, during and after pregnancy, in a new Healthwatch report.

The arrival of a new baby is a major life event for any family. It can be joyful, exciting, overwhelming and challenging all at once, so it’s essential that parents get all the support they need to help them form strong bonds with their children and help lay the foundations for a healthy, happy life for all involved.

Over the last year, our network has gathered views and experiences from women and their partners. Each one of these stories was different and highlighted that every person’s experience is unique to them.

Three common issues

  • People feel their mental health problems are triggered by a variety of issues
  • People don’t know where to turn for help
  • People feel scared about how people will respond if they speak up
  • Healthwatch is calling on everybody who interacts with prospective and new parents to make more space for people to discuss how they’re feeling, and to find out what they need to do if they need mental health support.

Find out more about what people said in the report.