Phones, food and pharmacies: the new normal

Team meetings look a little different these days…

Over the last few weeks, like many third sector organisations, Gateway has completely changed the way we work. All our staff are now working from home; our internal meetings are held over video and face-to-face appointments have had to cease.

Our overall strategy and ethos, however, has not changed a bit.

As we have done for the last fourteen years, we are still providing community-based support, helping people to manage their own health and wellbeing in a sustainable way.

Right now, though, we are doing this not only through our regular services, but by responding to the immediate, urgent needs of people in our community — many of whom are having to shield or self-isolate.

New services, fast

In March, when it became clear that everyone would soon need to start social distancing and working from home where possible, it was obvious that our services were going to have to change quite substantially. We understood from our capacity planning that, in order to provide support for the public whilst keeping our staff safe, many of our functions would have to switch to remote working. But we also saw that there were going to be huge needs around isolation and helping people to get the basic essentials.

We knew we had to work fast.

In collaboration with our outreach teams — in particular our Social Prescribing Link Workers, who were already having these conversations with patients — and drawing on our skills as an organisation, we put together some offers of help to Birmingham and Solihull Councils and Public Health. These prioritised:

  • the distribution of food and medication
  • social support over the phone to listen and reassure people, and
  • linking people to sources of advice and help.

In response to these offers, some new services were very quickly requested and developed. We are now running these new services in addition to our regular services.

Pharmacy collections

Community Wellbeing Adviser Deb in her additional role as delivery driver

In Solihull, as well as continuing to take referrals for the Solihull Lifestyle Service, and supporting people over the phone, we now run a medication collection and delivery service. This is a team of drivers who collect prescribed medications from pharmacies across Solihull, and deliver them to people who aren’t able to get to a pharmacy themselves.

The team of five is made up of Link Workers and Community Wellbeing Advisers and they do this on top of their already busy caseloads.

This service, like seemingly everything else at the moment, was developed at breakneck speed. New policies were put together, new processes designed and approved, responsibility allocated to a manager, and staff briefed and trained, very quickly. Normally it would take several meetings and weeks of talks to create something like this, but thanks to the urgency and willingness from Solihull Public Health and everyone else involved, it has been done in days.

ENNS and support for Quinton households

Leaflets were delivered to a number of households in Quinton (click to view full size PDF)

While other Neighbourhood Network Schemes have been running for a year or more, we have only recently been appointed as lead for the Edgbaston Neighbourhood Network Scheme — and because of the Coronavirus, we have had to hit the ground running.

We’d only been getting to know Edgbaston, Harborne and Quinton groups for a few weeks when Birmingham City Council and BVSC asked all the Neighbourhood Network Scheme leads to co-ordinate their constituency’s Covid-19 response.

So in the last few weeks we have got to know lots of new organisations very quickly!

The Edgbaston NNS is now a central point of contact for people in need, and for groups that need help to be able to do even more than they were already doing. We now have an emergency asset register, where we are logging the creative ways in which groups continue to support their members, and the extra support that groups and individuals are able to offer.

We have anticipated that Quinton, which has the highest levels of deprivation in our constituency, will have the highest intensity of need. So our NNS team and our local Link Workers are working closely with community groups like The Quinton and Oldbury Foodbank, and the B32 Group, whose volunteers are organising and delivering food, as well as local Councillors, to co-ordinate support here — and we’re also helping to promote a designated grants programme in the area. We have the support of our MP, Preet Kaur Gill. And we’ve set up a group that meets weekly by Zoom to keep in touch, share ideas, and check on progress.

Shopping service

Gateway’s Social Prescribing Link Workers have only been in post for a couple of months, but they have already seen massive changes in their job role. Originally set up to be based at GP surgeries and working directly with patients, the Link Workers are now all working from home.

Thankfully, they are a creative and resilient bunch! They’re continuing to receive non-clinical referrals from GPs and Practice staff, and they’re also helping with the new services — so not only are they supporting patients over the phone, they’re also sourcing food parcels, delivering medications, and doing other odd jobs for people who need help.

But they’ve also helped us to discover an extra need. Lots of people need food parcels because of financial hardship, but what about people who can and want to pay for their food? There are many people who can’t get out to the shops and whose usual support networks are not able to help. Supermarket deliveries are either unreliable, or not viable for other reasons, and it means some people are going without.

So we are setting up a shopping service. This will be led by our Link Workers and made available to those we support who really need it, and we hope to have it in place within the next few days.

Thank you

When everything is moving so quickly with so much uncertainty, we are grateful for our dedicated teams of staff and our community’s strength. It has felt important for us, as an organisation that supports the people of Birmingham and Solihull, to be able to say we’re happy to muck in. But it’s even more valuable to know that our staff will respond in the most responsible, empathic, co-operative way, and that there are many community groups and individuals that we can work with to support those most in need.

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