The county’s health and social care teams have been praised for their work over the course of the pandemic in what has been described as “the most challenging and complex financial year in the history of the public sector”.
The comments came as members of the Integration Joint Board’s (IJBs) Audit Committee considered the 2020-2021 draft annual accounts for the organisation today, 23 June.
The IJB is the body which oversees commissioning of health and social care services run by Orkney Islands Council and NHS Orkney.
Members heard the impact of COVID-19 on services commissioned by the Orkney IJB has been unprecedented, requiring significant service change within a short period of time – with staff having to navigate sudden service closures and redeploy to outreach support and emergency response efforts.
With the help of IT teams within NHS Orkney and OIC, staff were equipped with IT equipment to hold remote resilience meetings, including weekly Caring for People meetings with partners to discuss and co-ordinate emergency responses, and Service Operational Recovery Team (SORT) was meetings to identify priorities for commissioning and decommissioning emergency response services, scaling back and reopening services in line with Scottish Government COVID-19 advice.
All the while, members heard staff maintained statutory services and managed to drive forward service reviews, innovations and improvements, including:
- An additional 10 places opened within the vacant fourth wing at Hamnavoe House residential care home in response to the first wave of the virus to ensure there was capacity within the hospital to meet covid-related needs.
- The Near Me project - the safe and secure video calling system which allows patients to attend their appointments from the safety and comfort of their own homes - was accelerated as part of the COVID-19 response. Initially aimed at enabling GP Practices, the technology was rolled out further into Mental Health Services, Allied Health Professionals and other clinical services traditionally delivered from the Hospital.
- An emergency humanitarian assistance hub opened and was initially staffed seven days a week. Staff and volunteers were redeployed to be available to answer any queries from the public and they were also responsible for the organisation of delivery of food parcels within the community. One of OHAC’s Heads of Service took a lead role in the management of this hub once it was initiated, and OHAC’s Community Justice Planning, Performance and Information Officer provided day to day operational management, and still retains a role in supporting members of the Orkney community who required to shield or self-isolate.
- There was additional Mental Health Officer capacity to deal with any spikes in demand within the service. This additional short term provision ceased in August 2020.
- An assessment centre situated away from the Balfour Hospital to reduce flow within the hospital was created to accommodate assessment and swabbing for people who developed symptoms. This was further utilised as the vaccination centre.
- A special service has been set up so that service users can self-isolate for 14 days before admission into care homes.
- While day centres were closed, teams were able to offer additional provision within care at home and supported accommodation to some service users.
All this work took place on top of implementing increased PPE and cleaning requirements, and supporting the highly successful local vaccination programme with the help of the community, local volunteers and organisations.
Stephen Brown, who took over from Gillian Morrison as Chief Officer of the IJB in May, said achievements during the pandemic were ‘incredible’: “Many of the developments that have been undertaken over the last year have happened at a time when we have been mid-pandemic.
“We hear at times of the number of things that have not been progressed because of the pandemic but it's testament to the services and the staff and managers involved that we have managed to achieve quite a considerable amount throughout.
“I am very conscious that we have asked staff to manage through this last twelve to sixteen months on an emergency footing which is unheard of in terms of being at that level for the length of time that they have - and I think it’s testament to everyone that we have still managed to make some changes to implement some of the service reviews and we’ve done that in spite of the challenges and we've kept communities and our staff groups safe.
“I just wanted to acknowledge that, and to acknowledge the work of my predecessor Gillian Morrison who had stepped into the breech on an interim basis from a substantive post for the last year - it is very obvious to me that there has been a significant amount of work done under Gillian's stewardship."
Councillor John Richards – who stepped in for Chair Councillor Steve Sankey to chair the meeting – echoed the sentiments: "There were so may challenges that staff had to step up to - to emerge from it as healthy as we have is a remarkable testament to every single member of staff that was involved in this."
The report before IJB Audit committee also outlined key priorities for recovery from the pandemic, including capturing all the information, lessons learned and new ways of working to ensure services are prepared for further emergency responses should they arise, and adapting services where new ways of working have brought benefits.
The report also gave an overview of operational highlights from the past year, including the adoption of new Dementia and Mental Health Strategies, and progress on the replacement Kirkwall care facility approved and due to start construction in autumn this year.
The report also set out the significant costs in relation to COVID-19 and while it noted an overall underspend of £2.323 million at the financial year end, much if this is earmarked for specific purposes, including £671k of COVID-19 funding unutilised which will be carried forward for use in 2021/22. The IJB faces a challenging savings target of £4.2 million to be achieved by the end of 2022/23 - to date there has only been £258K identified as recurring savings.