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Ensuring meaningful community engagement during a pandemic

In the third of our series of guest blogs looking at the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic across the four nations of the UK – a guest blog from Lynsey Cleland explaining that when even the best-laid plans go awry – how Healthcare Improvement Scotland - Community Engagement was able to adapt to continue to make sure that the people and communities of Scotland continue to have the opportunity to have a say in the care they receive.

As William Shakespeare is England's national bard, so Robert Burns is Scotland's, and with Burns night - which is celebrated on 25 January - just yesterday evening, one of his poems resonates more than ever. In To a Mouse Burns states:

"The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men
Gang aft agley,"

Burns is saying that no matter how much we plan, things can and will go off course. We planned to launch Healthcare Improvement Scotland - Community Engagement on 1 April 2020. What we didn't plan for was a global pandemic. So of course we adapted.

We believe people and communities should be able to use their skills and experience to design and improve the health and care services that matter to them and it is our job to help NHS boards, Health and Social Care Partnerships and other organisations to achieve this.

Healthcare Improvement Scotland - Community Engagement is set up with staff in our central office based in the central belt of Scotland, and with Engagement Offices in each of the 14 territorial NHS boards, including the islands. Having staff spread across the country enables us to work in communities and support engagement at a local and national level.

The pandemic has required services to rapidly reconfigure and provide care in new and different ways. During this time the statutory duty to involve people is as important as ever, but, with social distancing and other restrictions being in place for the last nine months we had to change the way we worked. While we always encourage our colleagues in health and care services to consider a range of approaches to involve different people, we were conscious that in ‘normal’ times much community engagement activity is carried out face-to-face. We quickly realised that our colleagues across health and care services would need support to plan for engagement with people and communities in ways that they may be unfamiliar with.

While online engagement became normalised, not everyone is digitally enabled and we also wanted to show people that there was still a place for more traditional methods, such as surveys and telephone interviews. Crucially, we wanted to hear what organisations were learning from carrying out engagement during this time, so it could be shared to help others tackling these issues. 

Through our Engagement Offices we have been able to reach out to organisations to find examples of good practice when you can’t meet people in close proximity. We had our own examples too. The result has been the creation of the ‘Engaging Differently’ hub, a go-to-place for advice and case studies to ensure meaningful engagement can still take place even if we can’t meet face to face.

While we are in the middle of the most terrible storm, even the darkest of clouds have silver linings and for me that has to be the implementation of Person-centred Virtual Visiting in all in-patient facilities across NHS Scotland. Healthcare Improvement Scotland - Community Engagement has been supporting the Scottish Government and NHS boards to ensure there is fair and equitable access to Virtual Visiting for all. We have been working with NHS boards to find out how they’ve implemented it, what good looks like and what equipment they need.

For some inpatient areas it is difficult to implement Virtual Visiting, but not impossible. We recently worked with colleagues in Healthcare Improvement Scotland’s Focus on Dementia team and Alzheimer Scotland nurses to share their experiences of how best to support people with dementia to have virtual visits. It was acknowledged by one of the Alzheimer Scotland nurses ‘that if we get it right for people with dementia it will be right for everyone else’. With a few tweaks we can make sure everyone can stay in touch with their loved ones while in hospital and I’ve heard stories of families being able to connect with one another from as far afield as Australia, as well as seeing their pets.

Looking back at Burns’ quote I don’t think anyone had the 2020 they had planned for, but I’m proud of what we have achieved in Healthcare Improvement Scotland - Community Engagement. With restrictions lasting into 2021 there can be a lot to feel gloomy about, but I know the adaptations we have made to the way we work will see us through even the darkest of days. We will continue to make sure the people and communities of Scotland will always have the opportunity to have a say in the care they receive.

For more information about Healthcare Improvement Scotland - Community Engagement and the work we do please visit our website:

Read our previous guest blogs from Wales and England. You can find all our blogs here.

Find out  more about our ways of working through the pandemic here.



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Please note the views expressed in these blogs are those of the individual bloggers and do not necessarily reflect those of the Professional Standards Authority.