For many of us, the pandemic has changed our working lives beyond recognition. You may be working directly with people who have COVID-19, in the community or in hospital, or providing essential health and social care services to people who are unwell or vulnerable in other ways. You may be trying to do this from home, or working in personal protective equipment.
While you work to support other people during these times, here are some of the questions you might be asking:
For many of us, working life has changed beyond recognition and there are new challenges to face on a daily basis. If it’s the first time you’re working from home, the chances are you’ll be getting to grips with unfamiliar technology, setting up a work station, establishing a new routine, and in some cases juggling the multiple demands of work and child care. If you’ve worked from home at previous points during the pandemic, you might be well versed in the trials and tribulations of video calls. Hopefully these won’t feel quite as daunting as they did last spring. Remember that others in your team are in a similar situation, so unwanted interruptions such as children appearing, dogs barking, partners walking into the room, or the postman chapping the door are familiar to them too.
It’s important to try to find somewhere comfortable to work. That’s a lot easier said than done when working from home, especially if you’re sharing working space with family members or flatmates. Wherever you find yourself working, try to sit with a bit of back support, and keep your computer screen as close to eye level if you can. And remember to give yourself regular breaks from the screen, even just looking away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes can give your eyes a much-needed rest. The Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors have produced this handy infographic with some of the things to keep in mind when trying to create a positive and healthy home working environment.
You might have picked up some of your own hints and tips for what works best for you, but whatever your situation, these tips should help:
Communicate often with colleagues and teams.
Set clear rules and boundaries, particularly with regard to social media, TV, family and friends.
Get dressed, so it feels like you’re going to work.
Take regular breaks, at least every couple of hours.
Eat well and keep energised throughout the day, without resorting to caffeine or sugar.
Get outside for a little exercise. If you can, try to get outside for a bit during the day when it’s light.
Create a routine and plan big or difficult tasks for when you have the energy for them.
Set your own hours and work at times that work best for you
Set an out of office reply explaining that you’re working from home (and possibly home schooling) and may take longer than usual to reply. It may also be helpful to include what your current working hours are.
Speak up and let your line manager or colleagues know if you need support.
Be realistic and recognise you probably won’t be as productive as normal – none of us are!
For more help with home and remote working, try this site.
“We’ve accepted that our working hours are going to be more fluid and flexible.”
When you’re working flat out, it’s easy to lose sight of the things that will get you through this. So try to remember the basics: eat, drink, rest, and keep in touch with friends, family and colleagues. By now many of you will have areas set aside within your workplace where you can take a break, get something to eat and drink, and reconnect with colleagues. Please use these, as you’ll need physical as well as emotional nourishment in the weeks and months to come.
Right now it’s more important than ever that your managers look out for you by working out realistic rotas, making sure that you get some down time and creating opportunities for you to connect with colleagues. If you’re a manager, we’ve put together some resources to help you do this.
Test and Protect is Scotland’s way of putting into practice the test, trace, isolate, support strategy. For information on how to book a test, visit the Test and Protect page here or phone 0800 028 2816. Please be aware that tests are only accurate if you have COVID-19 symptoms, so you should get tested within the first 3 days of symptoms appearing, although testing is effective until day 5. NHS Inform have produced this really handy Self-Assessment Guide to help you determine if you require a Covid-19 test. You can also call 0800 028 2816 (open 8am – 10pm each day) for help with any questions that you have about Covid-19, including testing arrangements.
Testing is available to anyone in Scotland who has Covid-19 symptoms. However, a level of priority is being maintained for key workers and their household. This includes all unpaid carers, and the health and social care workforce. Information on the priority levels can be found here.
To find out more about COVID-19 testing, including who is eligible for a test, when to test, and how to get tested, click here.
Having access to the correct Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is fundamental to personal safety and infection control. It’s also essential that staff can access training in its proper use.
Here is a message with up-to-date advice from the Scottish Government on PPE:
The safety of all frontline staff is an absolute priority, and efforts are continuously looking to improve the supply and distribution of PPE so that supplies needed continue to be delivered in the face of unprecedented demand across the health and social care system. Health Protection Scotland has published revised guidance for all health and social care staff on when – and how – PPE should be used.
There are slightly different routes for people to use depending on whether they work for the NHS or work in social care. Below is guidance on:
NHS: Every NHS Board has an internal escalation process for clinical staff, dedicated to raising issues regarding access to PPE formally through internal line management and clinical leadership structures.
In addition, every NHS Board has a single point of contact (SPOC) who is responsible for managing PPE supply in their organisation. The SPOC’s role is to resolve issues and concerns; they should be notified if the normal process is not working well.
If you are aware of any specific instances of those processes proving ineffective, contact email@example.com and staff will raise this with the relevant SPOC.
Social Care: If you work in a social care service (in either the private, third or public sector) and you have concerns about PPE, you should raise this with your manager in the first instance. If your concerns aren’t addressed, you can contact your trade union and ask them to help you. There is also helpful information on the Care Inspectorate website for social care and social work employees and social work students on how to raise a concern in your workplace. Advice on how to get help from Scottish Government with accessing PPE is set out below:
The supply of PPE for social care services is primarily the responsibility of the social care provider organisation. They are expected to make contingency plans, including for supplies, as part of normal planning. This is to ensure they are prepared for changes in demand or circumstances.
However, given the exceptional circumstances of this pandemic and the unprecedented demand for PPE, Scottish Government has set up national support for PPE in addition to normal supply routes to ensure that staff have what they need and that they and the people they support have the necessary protection.
Local PPE Hubs that were established in Health and Social Care Partnership areas early on in the pandemic are now supporting the whole sector with all of its PPE needs where normal supply routes have failed. These Hubs are also supporting unpaid carers and social care Personal Assistants with their PPE needs.
This is a significant change from how the Hubs have been operating so far, and they are receiving enhanced supplies from NHS National Services Scotland (NSS) to meet the increased demand. People and organisations providing social care services will not be restricted to a pre-determined allocation of supplies, and supplies are not limited to suspected/confirmed or shielding cases.
Therefore, if you have already tried to access your Hub or the NHS NSS Social Care Triage helpline in the past few weeks and have not been able to access supplies – note that the process has changed and will hopefully better meet your needs.
There’s a helpful video produced by NHS Education for Scotland that describes the most common problems associated with PPE and takes you through the dos and don’ts, providing practical examples of when PPE should and should not be worn. The video also demonstrates the correct procedure for donning and removing PPE in the context of acute, community and care settings.
You can also access Health Protection Scotland’s National Infection Prevention and Control Manual (NIPCM) which has guidance on the use of Personal Protective Equipment.
If you’re having to cope with wearing heavy and restrictive PPE for prolonged periods of time, have a look at this resource created by Performing Medicine, offering top tips from professional actors and performers who are used to working in restrictive clothing and equipment: Coping with PPE.
The Scottish Government advice is as follows:
Provided appropriate Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) is used in accordance with the “UK Infection Prevention and Control Guidance for COVID -19” there is no evidence that uniforms pose any risk to staff or others.
There is no evidence to suggest that home laundering is a less effective method of laundering non-contaminated uniforms.
Uniforms that are home laundered should be taken home in a disposable plastic bag, washed separately from other household linen in a load not more than half the machine capacity, at the maximum temperature the fabric can tolerate, then ironed or tumbled-dried.
You may be aware of evidence that suggests people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds are disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
If you’re from a BAME background and are feeling anxious, you should discuss with your line manager how you can best protect yourself and your family during this period.
Your employer will have to conduct a Workplace Risk Assessment to minimise exposure, and to protect you and all staff by reducing the risk of transmission.
To help staff and line managers, the Scottish Government has developed risk assessment guidance and an accompanying tool. Employees and employers can use this simple risk stratification tool to measure a person’s COVID-age. The tool works by combining known risk factors including age, ethnicity, gender, weight, and health conditions, to measure the risk of infection and to make sure preventative measures are in place.
Minority ethnic staff all have access to this tool and you can discuss any concerns about your COVID occupational risk. Your line manager should have a sensitive conversation with you. The conversations that take place between you and your manager are the most important part of the process, and the outcome of these conversations should be agreed by both parties.
If agreement can’t be reached then you can seek further advice from your GP, Occupational Health Service, Health and Safety Professionals, Trade Union, Infection Prevention Service, or the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS).
Further research is ongoing, and we’ll continue to reflect any changes that need to be made to the guidance, based on new clinical evidence.
As shielding has restarted, you may be feeling anxious about how this will affect your ability to work, so it’s important that you know how the recent changes affect you. The general advice is to work from home where possible, and to only go into work if you can’t work from home. People who’ve been shielding, however, should not return to work for the time being. If you’re shielding, you will receive a letter from the Chief Medical Officer advising you of this.
If you do return to work it’s likely that you’ll experience a whole range of emotions in the coming weeks, so you may need some extra strategies to help you manage. This guide, prepared by our colleagues in NHS Lothian, goes through some of the common responses to going back to work and offers some strategies to help you cope: Managing your return to work: A guide for staff who have been shielding.
Also be aware that your employer has a statutory duty to protect your health and safety. This includes assessing the risk of being infected with COVID-19 in the workplace. In some workplaces it will be very difficult, or impossible, to maintain physical distancing. The Scottish Government is therefore updating its returning to work guidance for workers and employers.
You’ll also find a workplace risk assessment tool here to help you assess your individual risk from COVID-19. It can be used as a starting point for you and your employer to discuss your return to the workplace, and it will highlight steps you can both take to keep you safe. Please note that it’s not designed to replace any assessment you might have had from a clinician or an occupational health specialist.
If the risks to you and the kind of job you do mean that it’s hard for you to return to work, some employers may be able to offer you leave. It’s up to you and your employer to decide what’s best if you’re not able to return to your workplace. If you feel you can’t return to work safely, you can discuss your fitness for work with your GP or specialist care provider.
You’ll find more information here to help you to make an informed decision and to help you access support services if required.
If you’re living with a disability and are looking for advice and resources relating to COVID-19, you’ll find a range of information at the Disability Information Scotland website. There is also a dedicated helpline available on 0300 323 9961. If you’re disabled and have been shielding, we advise you to sign up for the SMS Shielding Service to make sure you get the latest updates. You can do this by sending a text from your mobile phone to 0786 066 4525. The text you send should only include your CHI number, which is the ten-digit number at the top of any letter you’ve received from the hospital or from your health care professionals.
If you haven’t been shielding, but need help accessing services such as essential food, medication or emotional support, there’s also a helpline available on 0800 111 4000, open 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday.
If you’re working from home and need adjustments such as assistive technology, some companies are offering support that includes free help from people trained in disability and adjustments. A list of what technology companies have to offer in this respect can be found here.
Tips from a Long-Term Home Worker provides a refreshingly realistic view of what it’s like to work from home. You may also want to check out the Voices of Covid series, written by disabled people for disabled people, sharing stories and experiences during the COVID-19 lockdown.
If you’re a Personal Assistant (PA) you’ll be in a different position to many in the social care workforce, because the person you provide care for is also your employer. We’ve provided some information and advice for PA employers on the “Information for managers and employers” section of this website. You need to know that you have the same employment rights as other people and this must be respected at all times. It’s important that you feel valued and know what is expected of you during these challenging times.
It may seem that taking care of your mental health and wellbeing comes way down the priority list of things to do at the moment, but please look after yourselves too. You can find tips on how to do this on the “Coping and Self Care” page of this website and you can also find information on where to access support from the “Find Help” page. Scottish Government guidance on accessing PPE is available by clicking here.
There are also several services that can provide advice and assistance to you or your employer on the specific issues facing PAs:
Bereavement is difficult in any situation but current circumstances are making it even harder, as people have less access to their usual support networks, sometimes haven’t had the chance to say goodbye to loved ones, and are unable to observe some of the cultural practices and traditions that normally help us deal with death. As a staff member supporting people at the end of life, you may notice feelings of your own being stirred up, reminding you of past losses or causing you to worry about losing the people you love.
To help you provide the best possible support to people at the end of life, NHS Education for Scotland (NES) and Support Around Dying (SAD) have put together a set of resources for staff working across all health and social care settings. In particular, NES are hosting a new monthly programme of webinars, each focusing on a different bereavement-related topic. You’ll find information on how to register for these seminars here: Bereavement webinar series.
NES have also developed a resource for staff, teams and managers who have experienced the death of a colleague during the COVID-19 pandemic. You can find this resource here: Experiencing the death of a colleague and a print-friendly version here.
Additional resources relating to bereavement in the workplace can be accessed here. Some teaching resources that may also be helpful include: Living with Death and Talking and being with people who are bereaved. If you’re caring for someone with a learning disability or communication difficulty, a range of free picture stories and illustrated guides have been developed by the charity Beyond Words, including an illustrated resource on how to respond when somebody dies from Coronavirus, and coping with grief and bereavement. These resources are available here.
SSSC has produced COVID19 courses for social services staff.
Several bereavement charities and organisations are also offering guidance, including advice on what to say when someone is grieving, and help with your own difficult feelings. The bereavement care charity CRUSE has helpful guidance on its website. PETAL (People Experiencing Trauma and Loss) is also offering bereavement counselling to anyone bereaved by COVID-19. PETAL can be reached by phone on 01698 324 502 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org. More information is available on the PETAL website here.
The Childhood Bereavement Network also offers guidance on how to support a bereaved child or young person, or how to say goodbye when normal funeral arrangements are not possible.
It’s not surprising that our patients and clients feel anxious at the moment, particularly if they’re unwell or are isolated from their family and friends. To make it even harder, many of the things we would normally do to help calm and reassure people, for example using facial expression or physical touch, aren’t possible right now due to PPE or social distancing. But in spite of this you can still do what comes naturally, as you’ve been supporting people throughout your whole career and the same skills can be put to use here.
Try to act in a calm and friendly way, communicate clearly and patiently, and remember always to give your name. Allow people time to voice their concerns and fears, and listen attentively if you can. Normalise their experience without making light of it, and remind them that feelings of fear, uncertainty and vulnerability are all normal. If people are experiencing physical symptoms of anxiety and panic, explain that these are part of our body’s normal response to threat, and that they’re not dangerous and will pass. Some basic anxiety management techniques such as breathing and grounding exercises can also work well, so have a look at the information we’ve put together for you here.
If you’re supporting people with a learning disability or communication difficulty, a range of free picture stories and illustrated guides have been developed by the charity Beyond Words and are available here.
In building this website we’ve come across lots of helpful resources and guidance for staff working across health and social care during the pandemic. This list is not exhaustive, so please get in touch if you know of other materials people will find helpful.
Please also look at the Is it Normal? section for more advice on common reactions to stress and distress.
Talking with distressed people by phone
Staff working in health settings:
Coping with coronavirus – advice for ICU health care staff
COVID19 Guiding principles for nursing, midwifery and allied health professionals (NHSGGC)
NICE COVID-19: Critical care admission – rapid guidelines: critical care in adults
Withdrawal of active treatment in ITU setting
Healthcare Improvement Scotland
Staff working in care settings:
Covid-19 guidance on visiting adult care homes and supporting residents
Support workers in all healthcare settings – Recognising and reporting people who are deteriorating
COVID19 Infection Prevention and Control for support workers in health and care settings
Supporting families affected by domestic violence:
Safe and Together COVID19: a quick guide
Supporting older people:
COVID-19 Looking after your wellbeing
Bereavement and end of life care:
Support around death resources (SAD)
Recognising and understanding loss (Wellbeing College, Health in MInd)
Advice for social service workers (SSSC)
Discussing dying (NES)
COVID19 – Palliative Care guidance
Talking about visiting when someone is dying (NES)
We will have to talk about dying (NHS Scotland)
Delivering news of a death by telephone (NES)
Living with death – NES: Stories for Education teaching resource
Bereavement Charter for Scotland
Bereavement Charter for Scotland – Guidance notes
Caring Conversations – Bereavement and Covid19 (UNISON)
Talking & being with people who are bereaved (NES)
Psychological Distress and Coronavirus – Advice for professionals support to people in isolation
Meeting the psychological needs of people recovering from severe coronavirus
Guidance for delivering cognitive therapy for PTSD remotely
Moral Injury: What it is and Why it Matters in a Pandemic – Esther Murray (webinar)
There are 7 webinars planned: Cognitive Therapy for PTSD, Delivering safe pyschological wellbeing practitioner interventions, Treating Social Anxiety Disorder, Behavioural Activation, Traumatic Grief interventions, Delivery of OCD treatment, Delivery of Health Anxiety interventions, and Managing Long Term Condition interventions.
You can find the link on the NES Taking care of other people page where you can set up a TURAS account to access them.
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