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Public concerns about dentistry continue

New data gathered by Healthwatch England shows access to NHS dentistry remains a huge problem for the public amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Healthwatch continues to hear concerns about dentistry which were highlighted at the end of last year in the Dentistry and the impact of COVID-19 report after a 452% rise in calls and complaints over the summer (July – September).
In a follow-up review, Healthwatch looked at 1,129 people’s experiences of accessing dental care received between October and December 2020 and found:
  • Access to dentistry was difficult for more than seven in 10 people (72%), with some people actively seeking dental treatment being told they would have to wait anywhere between a few months to, in one case, two years for an appointment.
  • Access to urgent NHS treatment was difficult for people with painful teeth, with patients being told that dental pain was not considered an “emergency”, and for those who were prescribed multiple courses of antibiotics by NHS 111 without being provided any further treatment.
  • Examples of the extreme lengths some people went to, to get treatment, include calling over 40 practices to find an NHS dentist, and pulling their own teeth out when they couldn’t bear the pain.
  • When dentists couldn’t offer an appointment, they advised people to buy dental repair kits to treat themselves.

The findings come after some MPs and the British Dental Association called on the Government to scrap its new targets for NHS dentists, which require them to deliver 45% of their pre-pandemic levels of dental activity.

There are concerns this is likely to push practices into prioritising appointments such as check-ups over emergency or more complex longer treatments.

Healthwatch’s findings also suggest that patients are being told that although NHS appointments are not available, they can be treated privately. This creates a real barrier for everyone, and in particular for people on low income, to receive vital treatment.

Tell us about your experience of dental care during the pandemic here or text 07413 385275 and one of our friendly team will call you back.

Keeping People Connected Project

Northumberland Independent Advocacy Service is running a project called Keeping People Connected. The aim of the project, which was first delivered by People First at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, is to support people with learning disabilities and/or autism who have no other access to support from family or other agencies, to link with local services during lockdown.

The service is being run until 31 March 2021, thanks to funding from NHS Northumberland Clinical Comissioning Group. Referrals are welcome for people who have a learning disability, learning difficulty or autism who qualify for, and would benefit from, independent telephone support from experienced, friendly and specialist professionals to gain access to services throughout the county.

The organisations involved will help people to:

  • Understand what ‘staying at home’ or ‘staying alert’ means
  • Understand the guidance on how to stay safe and not catch the virus, who to contact and where to go
  • Understand and treat any symptoms and illness they might have and generally look after themselves in this difficult time
  • Decide what immediate support they might need e.g. getting food or medication, knowing how to ask for help in an emergency
  • Know where to access more support services and connect to local groups
  • Feel supported, by staying in touch on an ongoing basis, if needed
  • Solve problems if things go wrong
  • Get help from other services where needed

More information and the referral form

Care Homes – keeping in touch with loved ones

Care home lockdown: how are you keeping in touch with your loved one?

As we enter a further period where visiting relatives in care homes is restricted, we want to hear how this is affecting you and your loved ones. What information have you had about keeping in touch and maintaining communications about care and wellbeing?

We are particularly keen to hear if you managed to be tested and have an ‘in person’ visit during December.

We would like to know your experience 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?

You can tell us your experiences at one of the ways here on our contact page, text us on 07413 385275 to make an appointment to speak to one of our team, or come along to our public online forum around these issues on Wednesday 27 January, 1.00pm – 2.00pm.

If you would like to take part in the forum please contact Laura Haugh: laurah@healthwatchnorthumberland.co.uk, or call 03332 408468.

Covid-19 and NHS dental care

Healthwatch England is calling for action to address widespread issues with access to NHS dental care following an unprecedented surge in concerns. Healthwatch experienced a 452% increase in feedback on the issue in the second quarter of the year, with continuing accounts of people being left in pain, resorting to ‘DIY’ repair methods and in some cases even extracting their own teeth.

The review of 1,300 people’s experiences of accessing dental care found that:

  • More than 7 in 10 people (73%) found it difficult to access help and support when they needed it.
  • Access issues were caused by dentists not taking on NHS patients, as well as conflicting advice from different parts of the NHS about what help is available.
  • Many people were offered treatment if they went private, despite research indicating that 40% of people would struggle to afford private dental care.
  • The impact of not being able to access care led many people to experience pain, discomfort and further complications.

The increase in feedback comes after the British Dental Association reported that treatments delivered by NHS dental services in England are at a quarter of pre-COVID levels, with over 14.5 million fewer procedures taking place.

Laura Floyd, from West Berkshire, was part-way through significant dental treatment when it was cancelled due to the lockdown in March. The new mother explained: “As we went from April to May, I had an abscess develop on the tooth which was still awaiting treatment. I did receive care over the phone and a course of antibiotics which helped ease some of the pain and swelling but this never fully went away, I just lived with it as cautiously as I could. Sadly my eight-month-old wasn’t as cautious when reaching out and grabbing my face!”

Laura, who was entitled to free NHS dental care for 12 months after the birth of her child, did then receive some emergency treatment for a further painful cavity but is still waiting for her main treatment to be completed a year on from her initial diagnosis.

Sir Robert Francis QC, Chair of Healthwatch England, said: “The COVID-19 crisis has impacted on many areas of NHS support but, problems in dental care appear to be particularly acute.

“Even before the pandemic, people were telling us about problems in accessing NHS dental appointments but since the start of the summer these reports have hugely increased.

“If we don’t improve access to NHS dental care, not only do people risk facing far greater dental problems in the future but it also puts pressure on overstretched hospitals and GPs. Untreated dental problems can lead to pain, infection and the risk of long-term harm, which is comparable with other medical conditions.

“Health and care services are working hard to deal with the pandemic, but we believe the Government and the NHS should give more attention to resolving both long-standing and COVID-related issues in dentistry.”

While the report accepts that the overall treatment backlog caused by the pandemic will take time to clear due to limited industry capacity and COVID-related restrictions, it makes several recommendations including:

  • providing more accurate and up-to-date information for patients
  • providing clarity over NHS dentists’ obligations relating to patient registration
  • making more resources available to improve patient access to
    dental care and;
  • reviewing the overall cost to patients of NHS dental care, particularly with a 5% price increase set to take effect before Christmas.

Healthwatch is also calling for people on low incomes who are forced to travel long distances to access dental care to be reimbursed.

Read more on the Healthwatch England website

If you would like to tell us about your experience of accessing dental care during the pandemic you can tell us your story here.

Care Homes – keeping in touch with loved ones

Care home lockdown: how are you keeping in touch with your loved one?

People are telling us they are worried about care homes continuing to be closed to nearly all visits.

They understand it is safer for residents and staff and the extra efforts made to maintain the quality of life in the homes, but after six months, people say they can see the effect on their loved ones, and their own, health and wellbeing.

It seems the situation may go on for some time yet.

Sharing good practice could help make this difficult time a bit better. If your relative, loved one or friend lives in a care home we would like to know what is being done to keep you in touch day to day and on special occasions like birthdays.

We would like to know your experience 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?

You can tell us your experiences at one of the ways here on our contact page, text us  on 07413 385275 to make an appointment to speak to one of our team, or come along to our public online forum  around these issues on Wednesday 11 November, 2.00pm – 3.00pm.

 

Download the New Covid-19 App

The new NHS COVID-19 app, now available to download for free in England and Wales, is the fastest way to see if you’re at risk from coronavirus. The faster you know, the quicker you can alert and protect your loved ones and community.

The app has a number of tools to protect you, including contact tracing, local area alerts and venue check-in. It uses proven technology from Apple and Google, designed to protect every user’s privacy.

What the app does

Trace – get alerted if you’ve been near other app users who have tested positive for coronavirus.

Alert – let’s you know the level of coronavirus risk in your postcode area

Check-in – get alerted if you have visited a venue where you may have come into contact with coronavirus

Symptoms – check if you have coronavirus symptoms and see if you need to order a free test

Test – helps you book a test and get your result

Isolate – keep track of your self-isolation countdown and access relevant advice

 

More information on NHS Covid-19 App

Flu jabs for health and care workers

Health and care professionals are being encouraged to get their annual flu jab.

If you work in health or care this is the most effective way to protect yourself, your family and those you care for.

This is anything but a typical year and we all want to protect ourselves and those close to us. Due to the potential impact of influenza and Covid-19 it’s now more important than ever to protect ourselves from getting the flu.

The flu virus spreads from person-to-person, even amongst those not showing any symptoms. Frontline workers are at an increased risk of contracting flu and it’s very easy to pass the virus on without knowing. Even if you’re healthy, you can still get flu and spread it to the people you care for, your colleagues and to your family.

Getting your flu jab is simple, easy and free. All you need to do is ask your employer.

The injected flu vaccine given to adults contains inactivated flu viruses so it cannot give you flu. The most common side effect can be a slight temperature or your arm may feel a bit sore where you had the injection. Other reactions are rare.

If you are not a health or care worker but would like to find out more about getting a flu jab visit the NHS website to check if you are eligible.

Our Review of the Year and AGM

Our Review of the year and AGM will take place online on Wednesday 21 October, from 2.00pm and 4.00pm. Find out about our work and how we made a difference to people in Northumberland over the last 12 months.

As the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care says ‘People should have phone or video consultations with their doctors unless there is a clinical reason not to’, and that there had been a ‘hugely positive’ response to virtual appointments during the coronavirus pandemic, we will also have guest presenters talking about technology in NHS and social care services. We’ll explore how the coronavirus crisis has accelerated the move to online appointments and consultations, what has worked well and not so well, and what we can expect in the future.

You can ask a question in advance or at the Q&A session in our webinar.

Join us if you can!

Register for the Healthwatch Northumberland Review of the Year

Northumbria Healthcare logo

Non-essential hospital visits suspended

From Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust:
Due to the rise in cases of coronavirus in the community, non-essential visiting is to be suspended in hospitals across Northumberland and North Tyneside, with effect from midnight, Thursday 17 September 2020.
Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust has taken this difficult, however important, decision to protect its patients and staff.Until further notice, visiting will only be permitted in the following circumstances and PPE must be worn:

  • For patients who are receiving end-of-life care or are terminally ill and in the late stages of their illness
  • For birthing partners in maternity units
  • For parents or legal guardians in the children’s unit
  • For long-stay patients and those with dementia or where best interest decisions or exceptional clinical/social matters are being discussed, at the discretion of the nurse in charge

Women can bring their birthing partners when attending 12 or 20-week scan appointments.

This move comes as tougher restrictions are announced for the seven local authority areas in the North East, including Northumberland and North Tyneside.

iPads will continue to be available on wards to facilitate ‘virtual’ visiting and friends and relatives will be able to stay connected to loved ones by ringing the trust’s patient line on 0191 293 4306, available Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm or sharing pictures/photos via In addition, patients can make unlimited phone calls to UK landlines and mobiles free of charge via bedside units.

Anyone attending an outpatient or diagnostic appointment or for a minor injury, urgent care or in an emergency at hospitals in Northumberland and North Tyneside is asked to do so alone, unless they need to be accompanied by a carer, to reduce footfall. People attending hospital sites are being reminded to wash their hands at the basins when entering and leaving, wear a face covering and maintain social distancing.

Marion Dickson, executive director of nursing, midwifery and allied health professionals at Northumbria Healthcare, said:

“In light of the increased numbers of cases of coronavirus across Northumberland and North Tyneside, we simply must take action now to protect our patients, staff and local communities.

“Suspending non-essential visiting is a difficult decision to make however, given the current situation in our communities, it is the right one if we are to reduce the spread of coronavirus in our hospitals and take care of our most vulnerable patients.

“As nurses, we know the positive impact seeing and hearing from loved ones can have on a patient and we would urge families to make use of the methods we have in place to facilitate virtual visiting and staying connected.

“We had tremendous support from our communities when we had these visiting restrictions in place previously and we would appeal to them again for their co-operation at this difficult time.”

The trust is also reminding people to:

  • Follow advice on https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/if they have symptoms and not to attend A&E or hospital sites for a Covid-19 test.
  • Keep your distance and follow rules on social distancing – please stay apart 2 metres from others where possible. If it isn’t – one metre with mitigations such as a face covering.
  • Do not mix with people from outside your household or support bubble
  • Wear a face covering – especially in enclosed public spaces when social distancing can be difficult or when you are in contact with people you would not normally meet. This includes when you are using public transport, car sharing and using taxis. Please remember to wear a face covering if you are attending health care settings such as a hospital, clinic, GP surgery or pharmacist.
  • Keep those hands extra clean – wash hands for 20 seconds and often. Use soap and water to wash your hands or use hand sanitiser. It is especially important to do this when you
    • get home or into work
    • blow your nose or sneeze
    • eat or handle food or drinks

The main symptoms of coronavirus are:

  • a high temperature
  • a new, continuous cough
  • a loss of, or change to, your sense of smell or taste

If you have symptoms, you are advised to get a test and stay at home. For more information visit www.gov.uk/coronavirus

 

COVID-19: What people are telling us

Each month, thousands of people share their experiences about NHS and social care services with Healthwatches across the country. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this has ranged from the effect lockdown has had on carers, to the problems getting emergency dental treatment.

In Healthwatch England’s latest briefing they outline the issues over 19,700 people have raised, as well as taking an in-depth look at how technology has been used in response to the pandemic.

You can find a summary of the key points below or click the following link to read the full report:

Read the full report here

The impact of COVID-19

At the start of lockdown, people told us how the measures introduced to help control the spread of coronavirus were affecting their care.

Changes to routine and planned care – In many cases, people were unable to find the information they needed to understand what they should expect from services and were unclear about what the next steps for their treatment or care would be – leaving them feeling stressed and frustrated.

Shielding measures – Those who were shielding told us about problems in getting transport to their hospital care. For some people, the cost of attending one or more hospital appointments was too expensive to arrange private transport, especially if the hospital was far from home.

Access to prescription medicines – Initially people were struggling to get through to their GP or pharmacy by phone, and others experienced delays in getting their medication. This caused anxiety for people running out of supplies, particularly for those with long term conditions.

What can services learn?

  • People need clear, accurate and consistent information about their care and the services they use.
  • People’s experiences of hospital appointments do not start and end at the hospital doors – their journey begins at home, so transport arrangements must be considered.

Lockdown begins to ease

As lockdown restrictions began to reduce, we started to hear new concerns from people.

  • Worries about the future – People raised questions with us about how services can reopen safely, reported problems using services that are supposedly already open for business and expressed frustration at some NHS services being slow to reopen compared to other areas of the economy.
  • Testing for COVID-19 – While some people found visiting a testing centre easy, we also heard that the online booking process was difficult to use and there were concerns about the accessibility of testing centres.

What have people been telling us throughout?

  • Lack of accessible information – Throughout the pandemic, we have heard about the difficulties of finding up-to-date information in the languages or formats people need – especially when advice from the Government was frequently changing.
  • Emergency dental care – People did not know how to access emergency dental care – causing them extra stress while experiencing acute dental pain or other symptoms. Many others have felt they have no option but to go private if they want to receive treatment for what their dentist considered to be non-emergency treatment.
  • Access to B12 injections – Although some people received injections, either as normal or at a different GP practice, we also heard that in many areas there was an inconsistent approach to providing this treatment.
  • Care homes – People’s feedback highlighted that while family and friends were unable to visit their loved ones in care homes, timely and regular communication from care home staff really mattered.
  • The hidden effect on families and carers – The lack of respite has left many carers feeling stressed, isolated and forgotten about. We also heard about the difficulties some people faced helping the person that they care for to understand and remember the lockdown measures.
  • Praise for health and social care workers – Throughout the pandemic, we have heard about how much people appreciate the hard work of health and social care professionals during this time of unprecedented challenges.
  • The impact on people’s mental health – Since the start of lockdown, we have heard about the effects of the pandemic on people’s mental health and wellbeing. For some people, the changes to the services they would usually access have left them feeling abandoned – with infrequent telephone appointments not meeting their needs.

What can services learn?

  • Accessible information and meeting people’s communication needs must be considered from the start and should not be an afterthought. The information must also be shared through trusted sources, such as community centres and groups.
  • Families and carers have been providing even more care than usual during the pandemic – but this often goes unnoticed, and many need more support.
  • Good communications between care homes staff residents and their family and friends is key, especially while visiting restrictions are in place. Where appropriate, this should include involving residents’ families or next of kin in decision making about their care.
  • The mental health impacts of the pandemic are affecting both existing service users and non-service users. Mental health services will require investment to support people in both the short and long-term.

Digital healthcare

The pandemic has seen the digitisation of many health and social care services overnight. While digital appointments don’t work for everyone, and services should not be exclusively digital, it’s important healthcare services embrace technology for those who find it an efficient way to communicate. Our recent work in this area demonstrates how services are embracing this shift to digital healthcare:

The doctor will zoom you now

How the new NHS COVID-19 tracing app offers better data privacy

Read the full briefing to find out what we can learn from the rapid roll-out of virtual NHS consultations, and the importance of involving patients from the start when setting up new services.

 

If you would like to share your own experiences of health and social care services during the pandemic you can do so here:

Tell us your coronavirus story

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