Our response to COVID-19
In respect of the latest news on the COVID-19, we realise that this is a time of national and personal responsibility and that measures should be undertaken for the protection of the individuals who are at high risk of the disease, the people who support them and their families.
Due to the uncertainty of the times, we are preparing contingency solutions in order to meet any demands across the statutory services we support.
A message from our MD, Alex Sweeney, on responding to the COVID-19 challenge.
At ICS Assessment Services, like many other businesses, we have had to rapidly transition our Manchester office operation to a remote working model, so that we can continue to work safely and sustainably through the COVID-19 crisis. We have a responsibility to the Local Authorities (LAs) and Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) we work with, and ultimately the recipients of our service, to ensure that we are able to continue to work to the same high standards, identifying workable solutions to the challenges presented by COVID-19. Similarly, we have a responsibility to our team to ensure they are not exposed to a greater risk of contracting COVID-19 by virtue of the work we ask them to undertake.
Our key focus has been maintaining our ability to continue supporting our clients. Categorising social workers as ‘key workers’ served to highlight the invaluable role they play in our communities and the essential work they do.
Adapting Services for Hospital Pressures and Reablement
The vast majority of our Adult Services work involves traditionally face to face contact with older people who are receiving community-based social care. Clearly, many of the people within this demographic are identified as being at higher risk if they contract COVID-19, and thus many have been quite understandably reluctant to welcome our teams of social workers into their home to conduct assessments of their care needs.
Similarly, many of the people who require Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards assessment are resident in care homes who have quite rightly placed access restrictions on visitors. In these circumstances, it is our role to design effective yet safe working practices, which allow us to contact service users and the stakeholders of their care, remotely.
It is up to us to consider how the professional, skilful resource we have and are able to deploy flexibly, can be used to address the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. As an example, we have designed a reablement service aimed at supporting the transition of those people in hospital who are deemed medically fit for discharge, to be returned to their home with the appropriate community-based support around them.
Additionally, where Local Authorities are experiencing workforce challenges as colleagues are self-isolating, are unwell or have been assigned to other priorities, we have provided solutions to LAs for retained teams of social workers, to ensure ‘business as usual’ can be continued.
Supporting Children and Families
The challenges presented in our Children’s Services differ to that of Adults. Whilst children are not generally deemed to be in higher-risk categories in respect of COVID-19, maintaining contact with vulnerable children, commensurate to their needs, cannot be compromised by the restrictions on contact and movement we are currently enduring. We are working closely with LAs to ensure our ways of working are aligned and that we continue to discharge our duties safely.
100% Remote Working
The success of our business is underpinned by a fantastic team who manage and co-ordinate the frontline service from our Manchester office, and it has been essential to get everybody functioning from home.
Transitioning to a remote working model has been relatively straightforward and having tested the technical and accessibility requirements the week prior, we were able to get 100% of colleagues home-working from 17 March. I think the challenge now, and moving forwards, is more cultural than technical. The office-based team are a sociable group with long-standing and deep rooted professional and personal relationships – the group includes sisters and friends from university. As well as working together, colleagues will often go to lunch together, shop together, and perhaps (although only occasionally of course!) go for a drink or dinner after work. To take away the infrastructure surrounding those relationships, without recognising and attempting to mitigate the impact would be remiss of us as a business.
Like many businesses, we have utilised telephone conferencing, Skype and Microsoft Teams for formal meetings, and have replicated our full programme of meetings from home, including our monthly ‘Masterclass’, which this month took the broader team through the function and methodology of Continuing Healthcare assessments.
However, I think it is much more challenging to replicate the ‘buzz’ of the office – the informal conversations, support and repartee – and I think this is an area that will require constant attention to ensure it is not missed or underestimated.
As a start, we are having twice daily virtual ‘tea breaks’ where colleagues can get together on Skype and converse in the same way they might over a brew. We have even had a virtual birthday party and an isolation party is being planned! Inevitably many of these good ideas come from the team, so we have been keen to encourage innovation and creativity.
We have also paid attention to ensuring those colleagues with dependants are able to work flexibly and have started to consider how annual leave requirements may change.
As with many businesses, our approach to the new (albeit temporary) world or work is evolving, both in respect of the service we can offer and also how we structure our business and manage our people.