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Everything in its place: Creating COVID-19 policies

Here, Insequa looks at the process of creating and implementing a coronavirus policy despite the ever-changing environment.

Having clear and concise policies in place is always key in adult social care, but it’s essential now that providers are communicating everything with their staff.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the frequent changes in Government guidance and requirements for care delivery are key illustrators of the need for clear and up-to-date company policy to guide practice in a rapidly changing situation.

Here, we’ll talk you through how to create a coronavirus policy to help you keep up with changes.

Where to start

To create an effective coronavirus policy, you need to compile up-to-date and accurate information and guidance about the nature of the pandemic and its implications on care delivery and convey that information to your workforce.

The function of a policy is to communicate your company position and requirements to all staff, so it is important the policy is clear and understandable for all. In general, policies should be as brief as possible in order to maximise their clarity and ease of comprehension. Stick to the point, avoid deviation and repetition and write in clear, straightforward terms.

Ensuring information is current

All policies must be based on up-to-date information. However, this is a challenge with coronavirus as Government guidance is evolving quickly. The current Government position is published at www.gov.uk/government/collections/coronavirus-covid-19-social-care-guidance and regular updates are published via the @DHSCgovuk Twitter feed.

Several important easements have been made to the Care Act 2014 which can be reviewed on the Government website , and Schedule 12 of the Coronavirus Act outlines measures relevant to care and support provision – see www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2020/7/contents/enacted. Keep up to date with how these changes might affect your business and ensure any updates are made to your policy if needed.

Clarity – understandable terms

The key challenge in creating a coronavirus policy is digesting the current guidance to create a straightforward company position statement and a set of practical guidelines for staff to follow to enable them to maintain your company position. Clarity is therefore vital in order to avoid confusion and misinterpretation.

Try to write the policy in the most straightforward terms possible, avoiding complex language and convoluted sentences.

Be aware that the people reading your policy are busy and some, if not many, might have English as a second language. The Plain English Campaign publishes a number of free guides designed to help people to write straightforward, easy to understand content – see www.plainenglish.co.uk/free-guides.html.

Structure the document

Having researched the current guidance on COVID-19 measures, you’ll need to put this across in a logical structure within the policy document.

In general terms, our suggestion for the structure of a coronavirus policy would be something along the lines of:

Policy Article image

Of course, you may wish to add further sections, for example on the use of volunteers or the management of care and support plans during the pandemic. In general, however, keep the structure consistent and logical with clear headers and sections.

Implementing

Having developed the policy it is important to manage the implementation process carefully in order to achieve the most effective translation of policy into practice. The most well-written, carefully-researched and clearly-presented policy can fail in practice if the implementation isn’t given appropriate consideration. There are a number of factors that can improve the efficacy of the policy’s translation into practice.

Version control

It is critically important that you can be confident all staff are using the correct and most up-to-date version of the policy. It is easy, particularly where a policy is being updated frequently due to rapidly changing advice and guidance, to run into problems with version control, i.e. staff referencing different iterations of the same policy. This could lead to out-of-date practice continuing and critical messages and updates being overlooked.

To reduce the risk of issues with version control, always make sure a policy is clearly marked with a version number and take care when making revisions to advance the version number marked on the document. At Insequa, we use a decimal version number structure (e.g. 2.4), such that minor revisions would be denoted with an advance of the decimal place (e.g. 2.5) and a major overhaul of the policy would be denoted by an advance of the whole number (e.g. 3.4). Make sure all staff are notified of the most recent version number.

Also, in order to protect version control, avoid printing policies. Viewing them in a cloud-based or server drive or in a policy management system is much safer for version control than printing documents, which can then get stored in folders or drawers and re-appear to confuse matters after subsequent versions have been released.

Practical relevance

Another key aspect of implementing a policy is the consideration given to helping staff translate it into practice. It is very common for people to read a policy and understand the main points in theory, but then struggle to apply those points to their day to day work. Including practical examples in the document of how the policy operates in the workplace will really help staff make the connection to their everyday context and will help ensure your policy is implemented in a consistent manner.

Monitoring performance

Having implemented your policy, don’t leave it there and assume everything will be fine. Your staff team may have read your policy but not understood it fully. As such, you and your management team need to be monitoring practice and staff conduct to create the ‘feedback loop’ that will inform you of whether your policy is being implemented in practice as you intended. It may be necessary to clarify key points or offer staff individual and specific guidance to ‘fine tune’ the implementation of your policy.

Monitoring for updates

Once you have implemented your policy and are confident staff have translated it into practice accurately, it is important you continue monitoring appropriate information sources, e.g. CQC, Department of Health and Social Care, for updates. Ensure any updates are reflected in your policy promptly and that all staff are notified of the policy revision, to keep your practice up-to-date and relevant.

Enhancing care delivery

As with all policies and procedures, an up-to-date and clear coronavirus policy is an important aspect of your overall care governance. It promotes consistency across the organisation, ensures your management and practice are current and, ultimately, good policies enhance the quality and safety of care delivery.
Writing a coronavirus policy may seem like hard work, with all the research and effort of compiling the document, but, with COVID-19 deaths increasing in care homes at a point where deaths are decreasing in the overall population, the benefits to staff and residents alike of having clear and up-to-date guidance
are manifest.

Bill Watson is Director at Insequa. Email: billwatson@insequa.co.uk Twitter: @insequaltd

How are you keeping on top of coronavirus policies? Let others know what’s working for you in the comments section below.

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