The 2020/21 year began with the GP Care Group providing IT equipment, as one of the gaps the earlier staff survey had identified as a staff need due to their working from home. A budget for each staff to have a laptop and workstations was availed to ensure staff was properly equipped while continuing to work from their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The same survey had identified issues of bad patient experience due to virtual services, which was a new approach due to the pandemic. The Advocacy & Interpreting Service immediately put together an action plan to mitigate these challenges in collaboration with General Practices and other services supported.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic
Due to the pandemic, service performance figures at the beginning of the year indicated a dramatic drop in both interpreting and advocacy activities. Then service Post COVID-19 Steering Group that was launched worked on new ways to reach out to various communities the service has always served to reassure them and make them aware of how to access the service under the new COVID-19 crisis environment.
The shift of all language support activities and advocacy to telephone/ video conferences due to COVID-19 also reduced the Newham Language Service face-to-face and telephone interpreting bill by 2/3. Likewise, there was very minimal use of the Zero Hours Team.
With the intervention of the Post COVID-19 Steering Group measures, service performance figures for June 2020 started indicating a significant increase in service demand for the Advocacy & Interpreting service compared to the previous two months. But the service immediately noticed that there are too many GPs who were calling Newham Language Shop (NLS) agency direct rather than coming through our service, and this was generating a huge bill for the Service. To ensure that this trend does not continue, the Advocacy & Interpreting service introduced an On-Demand Service, which started with Bengali/ Sylheti then Somali and Turkish to ensure GPs use the in-house teams for these languages.
Then COVID Vaccination centres were launched in December 2020 and the Advocacy & Interpreting Service was at the forefront to ensure that those using English as a second language, especially the elderly did not miss out on having the COVID vaccines, given that they were the first on the queue. By the end of March 2021, the Advocacy & Interpreting Service had provided a total of 548 hours to the three vaccination centres - Queen Mary’s, Newby Place Practice, and Cable Street.
The introduction of On-Demand Service and the reduction in service demand due to COVID-19, led to a dramatic drop in the use of Zero Hours. The shifting of all service activities to telephone/video conferences and the change to the new booking system - Interpreter Intelligence; and the returning of office facilities to Bart Health created an average cost saving of £70,000 by the end of the year for the service.