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Your spotlight on local services

‘Phoning my social worker is much less stressful now’


Angela Dobson at home with Honey the cat

Angela at home with her cat Honey

Angela Dobson first got in touch last year to let us know how hard it was to get through to her social worker by phone. It prompted Healthwatch to investigate further. Our staff and volunteers made nearly 300 phone calls to the social work team, spread across two mystery shopping campaigns.

We first mystery-shopped the service in September 2016. We called members of the social work team randomly over a two week period to test whether it was easy to get through. Like Angela, we found that it was not easy to leave a voicemail message if your social worker was not answering the phone. Instead, you’d be placed in a queue to speak to a member of the business support team. It was clear that the business support service did not have the capacity to handle the volume of calls that were being forwarded. We experienced very long waits, and often our calls would not get answered at all.

Angela told us that it would be easier if she could just leave a message for her social worker, rather than having to wait in a queue.

Healthwatch shared what it had learned with the Adult Social Services team at Islington Council. We recommended that all staff start to use an answerphone. The people who ran the service were happy to make the change. Having some independent feedback from Healthwatch had given them the opportunity to look again at the way they managed phone calls.

We repeated the mystery shopping in February to check whether the service had been improved. Happily, we found that calls were answered much more quickly. We were able to complete 206 phone calls in the same time it took us to complete 89 calls the first time round. There was also less pressure on business support. This meant less time waiting on hold when we ended up there.

Angela told Healthwatch that those long waits in the queue for business support hadn't been cheap. Now if she just wants to leave a message for her social worker, she’s able to phone in the evenings:

‘I waited a long time before, an unacceptable amount of time. Sometimes forty minutes, and once it was over an hour. It’s much better now. At least you get through and there is somewhere you can leave a message. If I call after 7 pm, calls are free so it saves us from having to make such expensive calls like before.’

Angela explained that this was particularly useful if you needed to cancel or rearrange an appointment, ‘That way you know you’ve called, and they know you’ve called, and so they can’t say you haven’t rung.’ She also promised to get back in touch with Healthwatch whenever she had something to say about her care, ‘Anything like this I’ll always phone you. You’re an easier route, I know I won’t get lost in the system, and you don’t use jargon.’

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