21.1 The report was introduced by the Assistant Director for Planning, Performance and Engagement Division. The Assistant Director explained that the report outlined the findings of research undertaken in response to a recommendation of a previous People Scrutiny Committee review of Adult Social Care (ASC) Information and Signposting, which had recommended the Department undertake additional engagement with an independent organisation to gain better insight into how well-informed people in East Sussex felt about social care support and funding arrangements. Activmob Community Interest Company (CIC) were asked to undertake the engagement exercise and the original objectives of the research were adapted in the COVID-19 pandemic so that a first phase looked at ASC clients’ and staff experience of the first lockdown in 2020; how ASC had communicated with clients; and whether there was any learning to improve communication in anticipated future lockdowns. The second phase focussed on residents’ and partner Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) organisations’ understanding of ASC. The key findings from the research were outlined in section 2 of the report. Actions the Department had taken following the research findings and recommendations were outlined in section 3 of the report.
21.2 The Committee welcomed the update from the Department and discussed the report. This covered:
· Timing and content of communication on ASC services – the Committee welcomed steps being taken to improve communication and suggested the Department consider whether information on ASC services was always provided at the most optimal time. For example, the Committee suggested the Department could review whether it was optimal to provide lots of information about ASC services to people when they were in hospital and potentially coming to terms with a significant change to their health or lifestyle. The Committee also suggested information on ASC services could, in some circumstances, more helpfully be provided to people before they were admitted to hospital if they were expected to require support from ASC services afterwards. The Committee also emphasised the importance of the information provided being as simple as possible. The Assistant Director agreed that timing of provision of information was an important consideration and committed to incorporate the Committee’s feedback into the Department’s future work on ASC communications. Leaflets were provided in hospital in response to feedback that people wanted to know about the options available to them at the time they needed to start considering their future care needs and once received, they could be read and digested at a suitable future time. The Director of Adult Social Care also noted that one of the benefits of the Discharge to Assess model was that it assisted people to process information and make decisions about their future care arrangements outside of hospital.
· Health inequalities – the Committee noted that the previous People Scrutiny Committee had looked at the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) community; and sought assurance that the work taking place to improve communication and engagement was building on improved understanding and awareness of health inequalities. The Assistant Director confirmed that the Department was undertaking an ambitious 18-month project with VCSE and health partners to understand more about health inequalities, why they existed and what could be done in response. The work to develop a broader Community Engagement Strategy for the Department would also ensure the Department connected and engaged with different communities in East Sussex. The Committee supported the Department’s continued work in this area.
· Research sample sizes and demographics - in response to a question about the sample sizes of the research conducted, the Assistant Director clarified that the sample size for the first phase of research was 40, and 47 for the second phase. The samples were small because the style of research undertaken involved focussed and in-depth conversations on peoples’ experiences of COVID-19 and ASC services. In response to a question about the demographics represented in the research samples, the Equality and Engagement Manager confirmed that, with awareness of the disproportionate impact the pandemic had had on some communities, the project group took steps to ensure the second phase of the research was representative of a range of demographics. Just over 21% of respondents in phase 2 of the research were from ethnic minority backgrounds as a result; and different age groups, abilities and areas of East Sussex were also represented.
· Measuring impact – in response to a question about how the Department would measure the impact and effectiveness of the work planned, the Assistant Director explained that the Department undertook regular surveys of ASC clients and would monitor the feedback from those to determine if responses indicated communications had improved. In response to another question on how the aim to reach 13,000 clients through the contact strategy was identified, the Assistant Director explained that those people were identified as ASC’s core client group that needed to be contacted immediately following the outcomes of the first phase of research to ensure they were well-informed about ASC’s support offer in future lockdowns; and confirmed that the vast majority of that group were reached by phone or letter.
· Further information on operational staff feedback – the Committee noted that one of the findings from operational staff interviews undertaken in the first phase of research was that while a core service had continued in lockdown, some groups had been missed. The Committee requested further information on this and the Department committed to provide a written answer to the Committee.
· Differentiating service providers – the Committee considered ways to differentiate NHS and County Council services to help residents understand which services were provided and funded by which parts of the health and social care system. The Assistant Director acknowledged that while research had shown understanding of this could be improved, ESCC’s primary focus would need to be on ensuring residents received a good quality of joined up care within that system, rather than differentiating providers.
· Community Link Officers – in response to a question it was clarified that Community Link Officer roles were no longer provided, but the Department was undertaking work with the VCSE sector to look at how links with the sector could be best utilised to engage with communities. The Department recognised that the VCSE sector were integrated in communities in a way the Council was not and had worked throughout the pandemic to utilise their networks and connections as result (e.g. through channelling COVID support grants through VCSE groups).
· Staff wellbeing – in response to a question regarding staff wellbeing, the Director of ASC noted that staff across the health and social care system had worked exceptionally hard in very challenging conditions throughout the pandemic, and were now very tired as a result. The Director also confirmed that there were a wide range of wellbeing arrangements in place to support ESCC social care staff, including stress risk assessments.
· Calculating personal budgets – in response to a question about understanding resource allocation, the Director clarified that ASC used a resource allocation system to ensure that people with similar needs were provided with a similar personal budget to meet their needs. Although this resource allocation system used a formula to maintain fairness, this could be overwritten and there was a level of scrutiny of, and intervention in, the outcomes of this process to ensure that individuals’ budgets were tailored to their individual needs.
21.3 The Committee RESOLVED to note the update.