Covid-19 Action Fund winners: health and social care

The Covid-19 Action Fund provides grants for Churchill Fellows to increase their vital contribution to the national effort against Covid-19. Hundreds of pandemic projects nationwide are being run or assisted by Churchill Fellows, using the international expertise they gained during their Fellowships overseas. Here are the Action Fund recipients working on health and social care issues.

E.A. Draffan: enhancing communication between healthcare workers and their patients


Speech and language experts worldwide are concerned about a lack of support for people with communication difficulties during the Covid-19 pandemic. Patients who may not be fluent in English, who have an underlying condition that inhibits speech, who are using a ventilator so can't speak, or who have poor literacy skills - all are at higher risk of developing a serious adverse medical condition if they cannot communicate with their healthcare providers. Speech and language therapist E.A. Draffan, from Rackham, near Pulborough in West Sussex, will use her grant to enhance the development of an app she has helped to create, which enables health and social care workers to communicate with patients who have difficulty communicating.

The app, called Boardbuilder,  involves the use of charts, symbols and pictographic images, which the patient can select in order to communicate with their carer. The app is freely available to be used by anyone across the UK, but it currently doesn't allow personalisation for specific users and it lacks appropriate healthcare vocabulary - including images relating to Covid-19, which need to be captured. E.A. and her colleagues will enhance and expand the app so that it can become personalised, allowing charts for specific users to be saved and exported. They will develop a simple symbol creation tool, to allow health and care workers to rapidly add and adapt suitable images or graphics to expand communication. And they will expand the symbols and images available to include Covid-19 health-related issues. E.A. explored assistive technologies for training in literacy skills on her Churchill Fellowship to the USA in 1995. 

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Sara Dunn: supporting unpaid carers during Covid-19


Unpaid carers are one of the least supported groups in society - and are now carrying a huge burden of risk during the pandemic. In the absence of suitable PPE or clear guidance, many are concerned for their health and wonder how to continue safely in their caring role. Digital inclusion consultant Sara Dunn from Dorchester in Dorset is the founder of CuppaCare, a mobile app and micro-learning platform for care workers.

She will use her grant to develop the app so that it provides a Covid-19 Survival Pack, available free of charge for unpaid carers. The pack will provide free guidance designed specifically for carers and presented in an accessible format. Sara will develop the pack in consultation with carers' organisations and with her own professional networks, and will promote the app through social media. Sara's Churchill Fellowship explored best practice in providing mental health information in Australia and New Zealand.  

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Tim Robbins: treating high-risk Covid-19 patients with diabetes

Research shows that people with diabetes are at greater risk from Covid-19 - and this risk is heightened even further if they come from a deprived background or community. Doctor Tim Robbins from Weston under Wetherley in Warwickshire will use his grant to monitor the health and wellbeing of Covid-19 patients from deprived communities who have diabetes. Tim has led work to issue digital glucose sensors for in-patients with Covid-19 and diabetes within his NHS Trust, allowing much closer monitoring than the usual finger-prick tests, so that they can be treated with the right healthcare support.

So far, this work has only been possible in hospital settings but Tim will use the grant to expand it into hard-to-reach and deprived high-risk populations after hospital discharge. This is needed because the mental and physical impacts of Covid-19 will last longer in such populations and may widen already existing health inequalities. Tim will engage further with these communities, focussing not only on blood-sugar control but also on mental health needs. He will develop and demonstrate the effectiveness of such a model via his NHS Trust - University Hospitals Coventry & Warwickshire NHS Trust -  with the aim that it could be rolled out more widely. Tim Robbins' Churchill Fellowship to the USA explored patient-centred digital health and personalised care. 

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Find out more about the Covid-19 Action Fund winners

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