Do you have recent experience of maternity services? Are you from a Black, Asian or other minority ethnic background?
Maternity systems in Sandwell and West Birmingham are producing a COVID-19 Communications Plan, specifically designed to help them better communicate with women and families from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.
Now, Sandwell and West Birmingham Maternity Voices Partnership (MVP) is looking for service users to help co-produce the Plan.
Why is this Communications Plan needed?
During the pandemic, there has been a decrease in people accessing NHS services, including maternity services. However, it is vitally important for pregnant women and new parents, especially Black and Asian women, to seek help if they have concerns about their own or their baby’s health.
Evidence has long shown that maternal and perinatal mortality rates are significantly higher for Black, Asian and mixed-race women and their babies than for white women. And recently, it has been found that mortality involving COVID-19 disproportionately affects people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. Emerging evidence indicates that Asian women are four times more likely than white women to be admitted to hospital with COVID-19 during pregnancy, while Black women are eight times more likely.
This Communications Plan is designed to reassure pregnant women and new parents that seeking help from the NHS is safe.
How you can help
First, click the link below to download the Plan (Word doc).
When you have read the document, we would like to know your answers to four questions.
All questions are optional, so you can respond anonymously if you wish. However, if you would like to know more, or be more involved in producing the Plan, please include your name and email address where indicated.
When you’ve finished, press “Submit”, and your answers will be emailed to Che Maclaren, the Co-ordinator for Sandwell and West Birmingham MVP. You can also contact Che by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Want to join the Maternity Voices Partnership as a Service User Representative?
Have you recently used maternity services in Sandwell and West Birmingham? Would you like the chance to improve women and families’ experience of perinatal care?
We are currently looking for Service User Representatives to join the Sandwell and West Birmingham MVP and help shape our maternity services for the better. Being a Rep could include coming to meetings (currently online), regularly giving feedback about local services, and attending focus groups – but you can be involved as much or as little as you like. Contact Che to find out more.
The Patient Health Forum (also known as the South Birmingham Long Term Conditions Group) is a social group for people who live with, or care for people who live with, a range of long term health conditions.
It’s run by a committee of volunteers but the monthly meetings, which usually take place at a community centre in Stirchley, are supported and facilitated by Gateway.
The group has been going for years now and, for many of the Forum members, the monthly meetings are a lifeline: some members live alone, or with the person they care for, and would otherwise rarely get the chance to socialise. The meetings provide a chance to meet friends and other people who are in a similar situation, as well as access to information and advice from local agencies and groups. Plus, of course, the all-important buffet lunch!
So in March, when the meetings had to be suspended, we had to make sure that we could continue supporting the group.
Switching to remote support
In mid-March, when it became obvious that gatherings would need to stop, we contacted all Forum members with the offer of a phonecall in lieu of the regular meetings. At that point, almost all of the members accepted the offer of a monthly wellbeing check or social call.
However, as you probably remember, things escalated quickly at the end of March. A week after offering the monthly calls it became clear that most members would have to isolate because they are over 70 or otherwise vulnerable. So we made the check-ins weekly. Many of the Gateway staff who’ve helped out at Forum meetings know the members quite well, and others were quick to offer befriending support, so we were very happy to do this… but it did mean that we were making weekly calls to more than 50 people.
Over the last two months, some Forum members have opted out of the calls, as they feel they already have enough support from friends, family or neighbours. But we have gladly continued to make weekly calls to the remaining members and, right now, we are continuing to support around 15 people.
What do we talk about?
Most of the calls Gateway staff make to Patient Health Forum members are social, but many are also practical. Amongst other things, we’ve helped people to have their medication delivered, register as vulnerable on the NHS website, find out more about the benefits they are entitled to, get in touch with a chiropodist, and start online shopping.
But sometimes the calls are surprising. We have found that as well as providing support, we are also empowering people, giving them the chance to be helpful to others as well as benefiting themselves. Becky, a support worker who’s been making calls, says: “One woman was fantastic about sharing her local info about food and pharmacy deliveries with me, and I have been able to pass this on to others who have also benefited. She definitely saw herself as contributing to our community knowledge rather than receiving from me.”
Kath, another staff member who’s been making wellbeing calls, pointed out that the crisis itself is also having some unexpected benefits. “Some of the patients told me they had reconnected with friends and family they hadn’t spoken to for a while,” she says. “One lady was pleased she’d actually had a two hour conversation with her daughter, who had previously been too busy to visit or pick up the phone.”
And Forum members have told us how grateful they are for the continued support. Some have told us they’d been feeling a bit forgotten by services, so a chat makes all the difference.
We’re very pleased to be able to help but it’s a worrying time for people who are already socially isolated. It’s not clear yet how the future of groups like the Patient Health Forum might look – but we hope that it won’t be long before we can start safely bringing people together again.
Some more comments from members…
“This call means the world to me. It breaks up my boredom and cheers me up. I enjoy having a natter and a grumble; it stops me from getting depressed, so I look forward to it. I miss the Patient Health Forum; seeing everyone there and the lunches.”
“I’m glad for the call. I don’t have a TV in my house, just a radio, but I’d usually be out meeting my friends. Not being able to chat much to people can get lonely, but this call helps me to speak to someone.”
“This call helps me if I need additional information, or when I am not sure about things like support for my disabled daughter. I’m happy to have a chat and you’ve helped me with your advice on how to keep myself busy doing jigsaws and mandala colouring. I really miss the Patient Health Forum gatherings so thank you for checking up on me weekly, it means a lot.”
“A big thank you to you and Gateway for calling me, especially in these difficult times.”
“It’s really kind of you to check up on me and make sure I am OK. It means a lot that you’re taking the time to ring me up.”
“Great to hear that someone cares; that we are not shut up and put away. I am happy I belong to some clubs including the Patient Health Forum. They are checking up on me which is a really nice thought especially in these difficult times.”
“It means a lot to me when you call. When you don’t see people it’s lovely to get a call out of the blue and have good chat. I have been feeling lonely, and isolating does not help the situation. Thank you, I look forward to next week’s chat.”
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Given the most recent government advice, and for the wellbeing of our staff and the people we work with, we are moving towards home working over the next couple of days. However, all of our services are still running, and you should continue to contact us in the usual way.
Our outreach services — including the Solihull Lifestyle Service and Social Prescribing Link Workers — are continuing to take referrals and to support people over the phone and via email. If you would like to refer into these services you can, and if you are currently receiving support, you will continue to do so, albeit remotely.
All face-to-face group activities have been suspended, so the MVP meeting scheduled for 26th March will not take place and the Patient Health Forum is not currently running.
Solihull contact information
For the Solihull Lifestyle Service, including the Solihull Stop Smoking Service, please call free on 0800 599 9880 and you will be put through to an adviser as usual. We are still taking new clients and referrals.
Other contact information
For other queries about any other services, or for general information about Gateway Family Services, please call our Birmingham number which is 0121 456 7820.
Healthy Futures was a social prescribing service that we funded ourselves and this was a typical client story, showing just how much a Social Prescribing was needed in Birmingham. However, although Healthy Futures was highly successful from a healthcare perspective — supporting over 200 people with tailored non-medical support, and saving time and money for local GPs — eventually, a lack of external financial support made it unsustainable.
Since last year’s Social Prescribing Day, though, we’re pleased to say that things have changed considerably.
This year, the concept of Social Prescribing is much more widely known and understood.
NHS England have rolled out Social Prescribing services nationally, funding PCNs (Primary Care Networks, which are groups of GP practices) across the country to offer a model that is very similar to Healthy Futures. Many GPs, practice staff and other primary care providers can now refer patients to a Link Worker, who works one-to-one with the patient to offer direct support and signposting.
Now, people in Birmingham like Alia will be able to once again access support from a trusted para-professional, trained to support people with all sorts of social, non-clinical needs. Gateway is working in partnership with SDSmyhealthcare to deliver a Social Prescribing Link Worker service to 11 PCNs across Birmingham and Solihull, and our new Link Workers are already settling into their surgeries.
Each Social Prescribing Link Worker works from a number of different surgeries throughout the week, offering patients one-to-one, person-centred support.
GPs and Practice staff can refer anyone who needs non-medical help, and the Link Worker will work with that person to help them take control of their own health and wellbeing and increase their active involvement with their local community.
People with social rather than medical needs
People needing help to access or navigate services
People experiencing social isolation or poor mental health
People with issues relating to advice, housing or income
“Sure, we can walk with you through a door – but ultimately it is your door.”
Zeshaan is one of Gateway’s new Social Prescribing Link Workers. He works with GP practices in the NSAR Primary Care Network, covering Nechells, Saltley and Alum Rock. Find out more about his role, and how he feels about social prescribing, in this short video.
Straight Talking West Midlands — a team of young parents who go into schools to talk to pupils — are now delivering more sessions than ever. This year, to complement our sessions on teen pregnancy, healthy and unhealthy relationships and child sexual exploitation (CSE), our Peer Educators are introducing a new session: gang and knife crime prevention.
As with all the sessions, this is being designed as an early intervention tool, with the aim of preventing children from being persuaded into gangs and related crime. Working with the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner, we’re designing the sessions to cover topics such as the pressures of gang affiliation, drug trafficking, the impact of knife crime, and awareness of the ways in which young people can be groomed to take part in criminal activity.
We’re looking forward to delivering the new session as part of the full course from Spring 2020. If you think your school or youth group would benefit from some Straight Talking, contact Marc or Che on 0121 456 7820 or email email@example.com for more information.
What will the sessions cover?
Shocking statistics from the Office of National Statistics show that knife crime is rising faster in the West Midlands than anywhere else in the country – in fact it has tripled in the last five years. And the National Crime Agency has recently identified Birmingham as a major hub for county lines, whereby children are recruited and bribed to deal drugs in rural areas, often ending up hundreds of miles from home.
The new sessions for schools and youth groups in the West Midlands are still in development, but they will be based on sessions already being trialled by Straight Talking in London. They will cover the pressures that young people may be under to carry a weapon, or to be associated with gangs or criminal activity, and — like the sessions we already deliver on child sexual exploitation — the ways in which young people can be groomed.
In the West Midlands, sessions on gangs and knife crime prevention are supported by the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) so our aim is early intervention. The first step to prevention is knowing the full facts, so our Peer Educators will be making pupils fully aware of how what starts as a ‘friendship’ may lead to pressure being put onto them, and the consequences of getting involved in criminal activity.
As with all our Straight Talking work, these will be interactive, lively sessions, and the Peer Educators will be using role-playing games to get pupils thinking about how they might react in certain situations, opening up discussions about their expectations versus the realities, and making them fully aware of the risks. They’ll also be showing videos — such as the one below from Rosca, a former violent offender who explains how he became involved with a criminal gang in London from a very early age.
If you have experience of this type of youth crime and feel you could be a positive role model for young people, we’d be interested in talking to you. For more information, contact Marc on 0121 456 7820 or email firstname.lastname@example.org..
We’re moving offices on Thursday so from 12pm we will be without phone lines but we hope we’ll be back up and running again within a few hours and certainly by the end of the afternoon. You can still email us email@example.com and if you have any individual staff members mobile numbers please continue to use as normal as these will be unaffected. All should be back to normal on Friday.
You might already know that our Social Prescribing service, Healthy Futures, had to stop taking referrals at the end of last year, due to lack of funds. You might also know that Healthy Futures is desperately needed in Birmingham. People who need support are relying on their GP or local A&E because they don’t know where else to go.
But did you know that if all of our Twitter followers chipped in with a tenner, we could support at least ten people for another year?
So we’re asking for your help.
In the next few weeks, we’re going to be launching a crowdfunding campaign. We’re hoping to raise £7000, which would allow our Healthy Futures Wellbeing Navigators to support more than ten people for a period of about twelve months.
A Healthy Futures success story: Royin
“I have moved forward in the last year more than I did in seven years. And it’s all because of you.”
Last year, one of our Healthy Futures clients was Royin, filmed here talking to his Wellbeing Navigator Ralph.
When Royin was two years old, he fell down the stairs and suffered a brain injury which caused life-changing disabilities. Despite doctors’ predictions that he would never be able to work, Royin went on to get a degree and a career in senior management.
To celebrate the first Social Prescribing Day, we wanted to share a recent story from Healthy Futures, our social prescribing service.
Social Prescribing Day aims to highlight the importance and significance of social prescribing within healthcare. Created by the Social Prescribing Network, a collaboration of doctors, colleges and the NHS, it’s a chance for services like ours to share stories about a way of working that has become a social movement.
In just over two years, our Healthy Futures “Wellbeing Navigators” have worked with over 200 people in Birmingham to support them with social and other non-medical issues. People are usually referred into the service by their GP, and then we work with them to provide a range of tailored interventions.
Those interventions might be as simple as a cup of tea and a chat, or — more often — help applying for the benefits people are entitled to, help bidding for social housing, understanding and filling in forms, calling the utilities to sort out bills, travelling with people to appointments, finding social groups people might enjoy (and going with them, if needed), and signposting to other organisations and agencies. Sometimes, as Alia’s story below illustrates, our staff are the only support workers available to listen at a time of crisis.
How Ralph helped Alia and her son to put down roots
When Wellbeing Navigator Ralph first met Alia* last summer, she and her young disabled son were living in a homeless centre after moving away from her abusive partner. Socially, they were very isolated, with no local family and few friends. Alia cared for her son 24/7 with very little respite, and told Ralph she was suffering from depression and anxiety.
Alia’s risks were recorded as:
caring responsibilities (disabled son)
Alia told Ralph she was looking for social activities so that she and her son, nearly two, could make some friends – important not just for her, but for her son’s development. And of course, she was keen to move out of the homeless centre. With support from Shelter, she had applied to move into social housing and was waiting for a decision.
Ralph was in the office one evening when he received a frantic call from Alia: her housing application had been rejected. Extremely upset, she hadn’t been able to speak to anyone. They talked and Ralph changed his plans so he could meet her the next day.
The following day, Ralph found Alia feeling very low. He explained that the next step would be to appeal against the decision, then called Shelter to arrange a visit from her support worker for the following week. Worried about her mental and physical health, he asked her to consider going to her GP. When he left, he told the Centre staff his concerns and told Alia that he would be available over the weekend if she needed him. (Later, Alia admitted to Ralph just how ill she’d felt that day, and that she had been considering self-harm, but that his friendly advice encouraged her to seek help.)
Since then, things have started to look up. Alia’s Shelter support worker and their legal team made the appeal against the social housing decision, and Ralph helped to arrange an Occupational Therapy assessment for her son as part of that appeal.
Ralph also found lots of activities for them to get out and meet people. Alia’s son likes animals, so he told them about the local nature centre and farms, which they have since enjoyed visiting. He referred them to their local Children’s Centre, and a support team helped them access free nursery care and activities. Alia’s GP surgery offered her a stress management course which she took up and really enjoyed. And, although Alia had originally refused Home-Start support, she changed her mind and began to receive support from volunteers providing temporary at-home respite.
Three months on, Ralph was overjoyed when Alia called to say the appeal had been successful. Now, they live in their own temporary accommodation. Alia’s making new friends and her son’s doing really well at nursery. They still have a long road ahead, but they’re happier and healthier – thanks to Ralph, Shelter, and her new support networks.