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How we’re working with the NHS, councils and charities to help the most vulnerable during the coronavirus pandemic

We at Virgin Care have been working flat out with the NHS, local authorities and other partners helping the response to Covid-19. Here, our Head of Commissioning and Wellbeing in Bath and North East Somerset, writes about how we have started a Compassionate Community Hub there to ensure vulnerable people self-isolating at home get the help and support they need….

“I think it is fair to say that in order to meet head on the Coronavirus outbreak, the NHS, local authorities, the government and care providers like ourselves have all moved extremely quickly to change what we do and the way that we work.

As you can imagine, the task at hand has been immense – after all, it has been about ensuring we all work together as a team to provide a coordinated response to Covid-19.

We’ve been delivering services on behalf of the NHS since 2010, and that means that across Virgin Care we’ve been involved in discussions both nationally and locally on how to respond to the outbreak since early 2020.  Our experience in running these services has meant we have been able to mobilise our quickly – although nobody quite imagined a scenario like this

Since February, we have been working hard helping to ensure the hospitals in the areas where we operate are able to create as much bed capacity as possible by supporting more people to return home quickly, and in many cases avoid hospital altogether through the support of our community nursing, therapy and social work services. We’ve also freed up space in our own community hospitals this way, often using the support that we have from the voluntary and social enterprise organisations in our local areas.

It has  meant working in a radically different way, for example, redesigning services so they can work without as much face-to-face contact, to continue supporting people. We have also redeployed teams like physiotherapists, who usually work in clinics, to support people in their own homes. Elsewhere,  virtual working has created extra capacity in our services like health visiting and we have redeployed people where we can to support the increase in patients on our wards.

In Bath and North East Somerset, we have provided services on behalf of the NHS and the Local Authority since 2017. We also commission a large number of third sector organisations such as homelessness support, hospice care and mental health charities, many of whom support people in their own homes

And here we have worked with our colleagues across these organisations to plan a joint local response that ensures we all work together keeping our community safe and supported.

For example, we work with a local organisation called 3SG who represent the third sector in our area. Amazingly, they have recruited 1,800 volunteers to support the response we all provide across our local community. For my part, I worked on establishing our Compassionate Community Hub, identifying colleagues from our wellbeing service, a premises we could use and a technology system that could support us working as one.

The hub provides support for those most vulnerable to COVID-19 in our local area.  It answers calls and identifies the most appropriate organisation or volunteer to meet their need, or signposts them to other services that can help.

Through working together in the hub, we are able to get urgent food parcels to people, coordinate someone to pick up medication, support mental health and wellbeing, provide advice on staying active or help people with support – such as signing up to universal credit.

We always work closely with organisations like these, but it’s been fantastic the way everyone has worked together to provide a quick response in such unprecedented circumstances; in fact, we now have organisations like Bath Mind, Age UK and Citizens Advice working alongside our colleagues on the frontline. And we are learning a lot from one another.

We are also making a real difference. For example, someone contacted us and said they were self-isolating in their car with no food. We were able to get them urgent food and shelter and kick start the housing process to help them get accommodation.

We are also proactively calling people who are shielding at home to ensure they have access to food and that they are well.  The response to this from people receiving calls has been heart-warming. Often people just want someone to talk to, and some have not spoken to anyone in over a week. The image below this blog shows a Tweet someone sent us about our work – which was great to receive.

We do have some unexpected calls, though – so far the winner has been someone who called in to ask for a haircut! A challenge I think we can all relate to as, for now, normal tasks seem so much harder.

During our opening week, we received 1,197 calls, we supported 64 people with urgent food parcels and over 30 with urgent medication delivery. We can only anticipate seeing this need increase.

This initiative is just one way we at Virgin Care are involved in supporting the COVID-19 response, and I know our colleagues across the country are also doing everything they can to support their local people. I feel very thankful to all our colleagues who are working incredibly hard, delivering the very best care. From those on the frontline to everyone who supports the coordination response behind the scenes – every day I am amazed to see the outstanding passion and dedication our teams show.


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