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Creating and maintaining your COVID-19 business continuity plan

The Access Group’s Martin Lowthian gives his key guidance on creating and maintaining robust plans, even when at the centre of a crisis.

The intensification of the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has, for obvious reasons, created a host of new considerations and priorities for care providers. At this time more than ever, having business continuity plans in place is essential.

Business continuity plans lay out how an organisation responds to threats to its regular operations and are often planned in advance. But due to the speed and intensity of the spread of COVID-19, many providers will inevitably be on the back foot.

Even the best plans will have struggled to meet the demands and pressures the sector is facing right now. Care England has suggested that the number of care home residents to have died as a result of coronavirus could be up to five times that of official Government figures. And YouGov polling has found that half of 1,000 healthcare workers surveyed in the UK said their mental health had deteriorated since the virus began taking its toll.

Care providers have already acted quickly to put plans in place, but with the situation unfolding at pace, keeping a watchful eye and updating these plans can prove essential.

Here are my tips for those who are tackling the biggest crisis to impact the care sector and our wider society for a century.

Don’t rush

The first thing to bear in mind, is not to rush. Be decisive when you have to be; however, crisis management is about taking the necessary time to make a good decision based on good data. Don’t be too quick to make business decisions as this can lead to a worse scenario or business challenge. Investing the time upfront pays off in the long run.

My suggested approach is to decide:

a) What are my business-critical processes?
b) What are my resource dependencies to deliver these? This is mostly staff, but equipment including PPE, technology and consumables are critical too.
c) Who are my highest risk clients/residents and how can I identify them to those that need to know so that we can continue to support them – and what resources do I need for this?
d) What are the most critical care services being provided? Which services, if not provided, could cause harm to the physical or mental wellbeing of those we are caring for?

Stop, start, continue

With the answers to the above, you can create your plan of what must continue based on your business impact assessment.

You can then decide what you will do to ensure that this happens and take a planned approach to how you will communicate if you have to scale down service delivery. This should not be reactive messaging, but rather pre-planned and with proactive guidance to the team to advise how they should mitigate their own risks.

Clear ownership for every action and response

Clearly set out what the trigger points are for your business; and ensure that there is a named person with responsibility for each. For example, a non-clinical director is not best placed to make clinical decisions, so give authority to someone who is.

Prioritise communications

You should have communication plans that are timely, clear and efficiently delivered. Preparing these in advance using communication templates avoids having to reinvent the wheel every time there is an update.

Automating the delivery of these communications to the whole audience can be helpful – updating everyone with one action rather than piece-by-piece gives you the freedom to manage your remaining business priorities without distraction.

Maintain a record

It’s important to keep logs of the decisions you have made and the actions that happen as a consequence. Don’t forget to also log instances where you take the decision to do nothing and the rationale.

Recording decisions throughout any incident enables providers to offer reliable evidence later on. Regulators, insurers and other stakeholders will be satisfied that you acted reasonably and based on the information available.

Monitor change

Changes to the plan may be driven by government announcements and interventions. These are currently being delivered on a daily basis. Watching the Downing Street press conference, or reading the highlights, to consider how any macro changes will impact your operation is crucial right now.

Embrace technology

At a time when you can become distracted with communication, consider opportunities to avoid the need to spend time on tasks like answering phones. Technology enables you to be proactive. For example, if a relative can see their loved one’s care record securely online and understand how they are, they don’t necessarily need to phone. If they can see a visit is happening, they won’t be concerned that a team member won’t turn up. Technology has a vital role to play in alleviating pressure for everyone.

Consider temporarily boosting your wider workforce

Less experienced or less skilled team members can be deployed to deliver lower level support activities, based on their training and assessed competency; whilst experienced colleagues maintain continuity for those who require more specialist support.

The government has said that furloughed workers can join the care sector workforce during this crisis and they will not lose the 80% contribution from their primary employer.

Planning now to create an efficient screening process and also a process to advertise temporary roles will enable you to recruit quickly, should you need to. This could be a major boost should this crisis intensify further or continue to persist. Having these processes in place to quickly increase the workforce if needed will reduce pressure on staff and ensure they can self-isolate safely without feeling they are leaving colleagues overstretched.

Mitigating risk

My experience in social care and the NHS has taught me that having robust plans in place, as outlined above, mitigates risk and ensures there’s time to react in a planned and sometimes rehearsed way.

Having well-structured plans in place may not alleviate the need for masks or more staff, but it will help you to respond to this crisis as best as possible and to ensure you are making well-considered decisions.

Martin Lowthian is Business Development Manager at The Access Group. Email: Twitter: @AccessCareMgmt

How are your continuity plans holding up? How are you keeping up with the ever-changing situation? Share your learning with others by commenting on this article.

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