A new report out today from Healthwatch Dorset reveals local people’s experiences of health and social care during the first six months of Covid-19.

It highlights common issues people have faced and how these have changed over time, and it identifies the challenges and achievements of a health and social care sector turned upside down by the pandemic.

Between April and September 2020, 179 Dorset residents shared 284 different comments about how their health and care had been affected by Covid-19, helping to identify where changes to services have worked well and where improvements could be made.

The majority of feedback was about GPs, followed by hospitals, pharmacy, dentistry, mental health services and social care.  Feedback was also gathered about a range of other services including NHS 111, care homes, opticians, emergency care, and voluntary sector services. Several key themes emerged.

People appreciate the challenges of providing care, but anxiety remains: The public have some understanding of the difficulties involved with delivering health and care services during a pandemic, but changes and delays to treatments left people worried and distressed.  Where services worked well, they were genuinely appreciated.

Changing nature of feedback over time: The focus and sentiment of feedback shifted over six months. During lockdown, people commented about problems accessing GP and mental health services; this changed to concerns about pharmacy services and then dentistry and hospital services over the course of the summer. As emergency measures and restrictions were eased sentiment became less positive for some services, particularly access to GPs and dentistry.

Virtual appointments work well for some, but not for others: While some people appreciate the convenience and safety of virtual healthcare appointments, others find them inappropriate or inaccessible, for example due to lack of internet or disability access issues.  This creates health inequalities – one size does not fit all.

National advice was not always clear: National advice about Covid-19 became more complicated when lockdown eased, with advice about shielding leaving people particularly confused and often more isolated.

Praise for voluntary services: Voluntary and community schemes across the county have been a lifeline for those isolating at home and needing support.

Healthwatch Dorset shared real-time feedback with local health and social care providers throughout the pandemic to help them respond quickly and effectively.  This new report, which provides feedback over a sustained period, will help health and care professionals understand how to deliver the care people need – now, as they manage a rise in Covid-19 cases while trying to catch up with a backlog of treatments, and also in the future as new models of care are developed.

Healthwatch Dorset Manager, Louise Bate, said:  “This is a good and timely point to reflect on how Covid-19 has affected people’s experience of health and social care in Dorset and the country.  NHS and social care providers faced pressures like never before in the face of the pandemic. New and modified models of health and care delivery have been introduced; changes have worked better for some people than for others. It has never been more important that the voices of people who use health and social care services are heard. Our report will help providers understand how to adapt and deliver effective care for everyone in these challenging and changing circumstances.”

NHS Dorset CCG Director of Nursing & Quality, Vanessa Read, said: “We’d like to thank Healthwatch Dorset for the work that they have been doing during Covid-19 to seek the views of the public across Dorset on health and care services, and very much value the insights and feedback that they have provided. We have used these insights both in the Dorset health and care silver group and the quality surveillance group.”

Read the full report: Dorset health and social care during Covid-19: What local people told us