“It’s always about helping the patient” – the award-winning Protect NoW programme

1st July 2022

Residents are used to contacting their GP surgery if they have a health problem.

However, you might not be so used to the NHS giving you a call. But that’s just what is happening in a project run by a small team in the Norfolk and Waveney Integrated Care System (ICS).

How it all started

When the first national lockdown began in March 2020, health and care organisations realised that the strict rules around social contact could cause problems for more vulnerable people.

With this in mind, local health and care organisations started the Covid Protect programme. The NHS wrote to local people who were shielding, asking vulnerable residents to fill out a daily questionnaire. This would give an early warning if they had Coronavirus symptoms, or if they needed help to get food, collect medication, or any other health concerns.

If a resident did have a problem then someone from either the NHS, the local council or a charity would get in touch to help. This is a great example of how the local health and care system can work together to make sure residents get the help they need before a problem becomes a crisis.

The feedback suggested that people were grateful for the extra support, and felt cared for.

One of the 23,000 people who was helped during the programme said: “I was shielding and found the service provided to be very good…I actually missed two online completions due to internet issues, and this resulted in a call from the NHS checking if I was ok, even with NHS staff extremely busy. Well done.”

From Coronavirus to…you name it!

The Covid Protect programme proved to be a runaway success.

Seven out of ten people said it was ‘very’ or ‘quite’ useful, according to a survey of 252 residents who used the service. It won a Health Service Journal award and was used as an example of best practice in a report by Eastern AHSN (Academic Health Science Network) and Yale School of Public Health.

NHS Norfolk and Waveney ICS was keen to use the approach in different ways to help improve the health outcomes of more local people.

So, Covid Protect turned into Protect NoW (Norfolk and Waveney) with the small team able to turn its attention to all manner of health issues. This has included the Coronavirus vaccination programme, diabetes, cervical cancer screening and mental health and wellbeing.

Meet Michelle, one of our friendly call handlers

Michelle Olds is one of the team who calls people about specific health and wellbeing issues on behalf of their GP surgeries.

A campaign Michelle helps with is for cervical cancer screening. A resident would have received a reminder letter to go for the screening and, if they haven’t responded, the team follows up with a phone call.

Michelle says: “We would call patients who hadn’t been for a screening for a long time. These calls were quite sensitive due to the type of programme it was – it’s very personal for people. We were given information and did our own research so that we could put the patient at ease to get them to go.

“Patients were sometimes reluctant to discuss it with us. We had to reassure them and address their worries. They might be embarrassed about it or had a fear of something being found.

“As a result of the calls, we had six patients with cancerous cells who were able to go for treatment.”

Michelle calls dozens of people each day, but makes sure that she listens to each person as an individual, and is very sensitive to what they say, and how they say it.

She says: “For me, it’s about adapting my tone tone to reflect theirs to get a rapport going. We had people saying, ‘I wouldn’t have booked if you hadn’t called’. A call might only take three or four minutes but it can change their perceptions about a programme.

“You feel like you’ve helped that person. Even if they don’t take it then, they have the information to take the choice later on. It’s always about helping the patient and getting a good outcome for them.

“It’s not just booking a person in for an appointment, you have to be intuitive to what’s being said and genuinely care about patients