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Communicating Public Health: Discussions about and among health and social care professionals

24th September 2020

Our Communicating Public Health series provides a window into the rich conversation that took place online during the national lockdown in the UK, when almost half of the British public (47%) reported spending more time on social media.

This, the third of four publications, looks at the discussions about and among health and social care professionals during the pandemic. The analysis conducted by Ipsos MORI for Future Care Capital shows the significant pressure experienced by health and social care professionals in the first months of the UK pandemic. Ipsos MORI used a combination of machine-led analysis, manual coding, statistical modelling and qualitative investigation to analyse some 19,145 social media posts from health and social care professionals and their representative bodies between 1 February to 31 June 2020.

Key findings:

  • As might be expected, the key challenges cited by health and social care workers included concerns around the availability and quality of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and the availability COVID-19 testing. The volume of posts relating to these issues peaked towards the start of the UK’s pandemic and declined gradually over several months. Although these findings suggest the beginning of a resolution, due to the limitations of the data collection period (which ended in June), it is not possible to assess the extent to which concerns were allayed as the NHS testing programme was rolled out. Certainly, towards the end of June, there was evidence that some concerns about the availability of tests remained, particularly among social care workers.
  • In addition to concerns about equipment, many health and social care workers had to contend with balancing their professional responsibilities with their personal responsibilities. A large proportion of posts from health and social care workers described the challenges of supporting and protecting their families and children during the pandemic. This emphasises the complexity of the challenges and the difficulty of the choices that many health and social care workers faced during the first six months of the pandemic.
  • The emotional impact of the pandemic on health and social care professionals was readily discernible within the social media data. Although feelings of hope and fear were apparent, the overriding emotion among health and social care professionals was one of anger. The volume of posts displaying these emotions decreased over time, but this may suggest adaptation to and acceptance of the situation, rather than resolution.
  • A large volume of social media posts from both individuals and organisations expressed appreciation for a broad range of health and social care workers, and the challenges they had overcome. The focus of this appreciation shifted over the course of the pandemic, from an initial narrow focus on healthcare staff to a more inclusive focus, which highlighted the importance of social care workers. From this perspective, the pandemic offers an opportunity to harness the goodwill as a springboard to further the agenda of professions that have previously been under-valued. In the shorter term, the increased profile may have contributed to the recruitment of staff in the professions; vacancies in human health and social work activities have fallen by 19% between May and July 2020.
  • The extent to which health and social care professionals gained value from the use of social media throughout the pandemic was clear. The broad range of topics discussed by them also demonstrates the important role that social media can play during a time of crisis. It suggests there may be further opportunities for social media and other innovative techniques to connect health and social care professionals to improve knowledge sharing and support.
  • The professional bodies represented within the dataset frequently shared advice and guidance about best practice. This could set a precedent for professional bodies to continue building and strengthening the types of support to the offer to health and social care professionals.
"Some of the issues that seemed resolved as the Government moved to lift the national lockdown back in the Summer have the potential to serve as a focus for concern, once again, as we approach the Winter. New challenges are also widely anticipated – ranging from growing disquiet about public health restrictions to the economic impacts of the pandemic, and what that means for the size and geography of any ‘second wave’ that professionals might yet be asked to confront. Our report highlights their reactions to some of those challenges as well as pointing toward what could be deemed ‘silver linings’ that could yet flow from an incredibly challenging time for health and care professionals." Annemarie Naylor MBE, Director of Policy and Strategy
  • Communicating Public Health - Report 3 Discussions about and among health and social care professionals
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