Coronavirus (COVID-19): supporting people at higher risk - qualitative research

Findings from interviews with representatives of 16 local authorities across Scotland, exploring how they have been supporting people at higher risk during COVID-19.

Support Delivery

Response times are reported as swift, with same day responses the most common. LAs assess the level of urgency of any request coming in as part of their triaging process – they try to respond immediately (within a few hours) if needed or the same day wherever possible, but if the need is less urgent (for example, a caller says they have several days of food left) LAs may take a bit longer to assess need and get support to the person, within 3-7 days.

Delivery models

As outlined above in the section on call handling, LAs have developed a variety of different models to deliver their services in response to Covid. At a strategic, higher level their models of delivery also vary.

There appears to be a difference in delivery models between rural and urban LAs with remote and rural authorities tending to have developed a more dispersed delivery mechanism for their wider geographies, making use of community hubs and third sector relationships. For example, one large rural authority is working through 10 hubs, one of which is virtual and has an overall supportive function. Cities and more densely populated authorities tend to have more centralised delivery processes to cope with larger volumes in calls and requests, though they also work closely with third sector partners to deliver services. Some of the relationships between LAs and the third sector were in existence before, but some are new or have been extended through the Covid crisis.

LAs tend to keep the very urgent work in-house: usually this is a food issue of some kind and there are teams set up to deal with this. 'Shopping teams' were referred to in some interviews – council teams who go out and do the shopping and deliver it to an at risk person's door. Other LAs keep stocks of food and other essential supplies in their building to be collected or delivered. Less urgent issues go out to partners. As another example of partner working, one rural LA noted that the local fire service supports them by storing emergency food boxes at their stations, enabling local emergency deliveries during weekends.

Councils also have their own specialist teams who provide a range of support on welfare, finances, mental and emotional wellbeing, social work and social care support, and so on. These teams would receive referrals from call handlers or other teams supporting the telephone helpline work as required. An example of good practice comes from one urban authority that described a proactive model led by the housing team who proactively called their sheltered housing tenants to assess their needs and provide them reassurance. They later extended this to all their tenants over 70, their homeless tenants, and tenants under 25. This meant capturing a lot of support needs early on and reaching a wider community, who may not have called the authority.

When working with partners LAs may do warm handovers and pass on information about the individual (where consent has been given) or sometimes just provide a name and address. At other times or for certain services, LAs may provide details of relevant partners to the caller for them to get in touch, as required or preferred by the caller. Callers could also be referred to specialist teams within the council or in the community.

LAs report the emergence of new community groups and significant numbers of people volunteering, not all of whom have been needed so far in all areas.

Transformation in partnership working

Overall, LAs report very positive relationships with partners as the following quotes illustrate:

'…everyone [is] pulling in the same direction'

'…[everyone has] worked well together'

'The level of engagement we have had with the third sector has never been greater'

'We can't go back now'

The Covid situation has meant many LAs have enhanced links or built new relationships with the third sector (including advice agencies such as Citizens Advice Scotland) – they are much more aware of what each organisation does (and vice versa).

Some have joint programme or planning boards and daily briefings, so they now often know each other by name. This makes handover of calls and cases much easier and quicker and provides a better overall client experience, as well as aiding decision-making and more sharing of local intelligence about what is happening on the ground. A number of LAs report increased mutual respect between themselves and partners and are looking forward to these relationships continuing.

Barriers and challenges

In some areas there had been initial teething problems. For example, some third sector organisations had been very proactive in reaching out to the local community, offering their services and their number to call for support. This meant there was some potential confusion around whether the local population should call the local authority or the third sector organisation and what support each offered. In some areas there were discussions about whether the LA should set up its own number or instead provide support to the third sector organisation number. In general though, call volumes were often too great for the third sector organisations to handle alone and it was also felt the LA should have its own number and related teams.

However, these initial problems in some areas have been worked through and all the LAs we spoke to were seeing very positive new ways of working emerge. Many are hoping to embed these new ways of working in the future.



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