Family and friends the biggest help to covid shielders – report

Croydon’s communities, friends and families rallied around to provide most help to those shielding from covid-19 during the early months of the pandemic emergency, a health services report has found.

The latest report from Healthwatch Croydon, the local health services watchdog, states that during the first coronavirus lockdown, from March to July, the council’s organisation of support services for covid-19 shielders was “not always consistent”, communication “could have been better” and that more help for mental health issues is required.

On the whole, the report’s authors found that shielders were satisfied with the council’s support services, while noting that “friends and family met most of shielders’ needs”, with more than 25 per cent of those shielding from the virus relied on neighbours for help.

A draft version of the report, based on research with covid-19 shielders conducted between August and October, was initially shared with Croydon Council which, according to Healthwatch, should inform the council’s responses during the latest Tier 4 restrictions.

During the first covid-19 lockdown, the council led the delivery of shielding services for more than 8,000 residents.

According to Healthwatch’s findings:

  • Food shopping and medication deliveries were most used: For food and shopping, medication and information and advice, shielders did get the information they needed in most cases, but this was less successful for befriending services, where a higher number did not get the information provided.
  • Friends and family met most needs: Friends and family met most of shielders needs, with more than one-quarter relying on neighbours. They also helped counter loneliness along with access to the phone and online services.
  • Organisation was not always consistent: While for many, the national government-led food box scheme was welcomed, particularly if they cannot get supermarket slots, some receiving them who did not want them. Some also did not seem to receive early notifications.
  • Communication of services available could have been better: Significant numbers of shielders were not aware of specific services, but they said they would have used them had they been told, suggesting a communications gap between services available and unmet need. This included 47 per cent needing mental health support and 39 per cent wanting befriending services, perhaps reflecting the impact of isolation and loneliness.
  • Mental health support is needed: After food shopping and pharmacy as the one item shielders needed, the next priority service was mental health support, reflecting the impact that lockdown has had.
  • Shielders were satisfied with the council’s service: Most shielders are happy with the service they previously received and want to see no change. Some need support in accessing health services and those whose work was affected by having to shield also need support.

Healthwatch Croydon has issued a series of recommendations which, they say, “are relevant to provider and commissioner”.

These include:

Do not change the service, enhance, and focus it: The service is much appreciated by shielders, meeting their core concerns of food shopping and medication deliveries. However, there are more ways the service could be amended to meet peoples’ expectations and avoid shielders getting service they do not need or that do not work for them.

Improve communication with shielders: It was clear that there was significant demand for some services such as befriending, but not enough awareness of these services, leading to low take-up. Some shielders also heard about services much later. Likewise, other services being offered by voluntary and community groups beyond the very local and informal street-based mutual aid were not so well used. Better communication could help with this. For many, family and friends have been the key support network, so find ways to work in partnership with them to ensure all shielders needs are met and this could be reflected in the communications.

Ensure effective monitoring processes: To measure overall effectiveness, it is suggested that monitoring needs to be undertaken beyond the initial information giving stage to check communication and understanding on the part of recipients.

Understand individual needs: It is understandable that in a project set up so quickly that there were going to be some process or delivery issues, but understanding each shielder’s need, such as whether they need a food pack or ensuring gluten-free food, would help perceptions and expectation of the service. Those who have been unemployed or unable to work also need specialist support.

Enhance mental health support: This came up as a significant unmet need and reflects the impact of first lockdown and the continued uncertainty around covid-19. With the plan to train people in Mental Health First Aid, some additional focus on shielders would be welcome.

Focus on those living alone: For many, family and friends have been the key support network. Find ways to work in partnership with them to ensure all shielders’ needs are met, including communications. As family and friends have been key to shielder satisfaction, there may be a need to prioritise the needs of those living alone and ensure they have an effective package of services, not just physical but also for mental health and to keep themselves occupied if lockdown returns in some form again.

“This year has been defined by covid-19 and as Healthwatch Croydon we have looked to respond to where we can offer timely and relevant user insight to support service improvement,” said Gordon Kay, manager at Healthwatch Croydon.

“The shielding service had to be delivered at great speed in such short time, and with the background of great uncertainty. By gaining views about how shielders felt about service experience, we were able to swiftly report back to those delivering the service so when second lockdown occurred in November, they could use this insight to make improvements immediately.”

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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