Technology Enabled Care
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Speeding up support for over 50,000 vulnerable people shielding at home from COVID-19
With over 50,000 vulnerable people shielding at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, Hampshire County Council urgently needed to understand their support needs. In just seven days, we developed and launched a Wellbeing Automated Call Service (WACS), dramatically enhancing the council’s capacity to do this. Used in conjunction with live call handlers, WACS let the council reach its shielded residents in a fraction of the time it otherwise could have. This helped tens of thousands of people get through isolation safely.
The impact of WACS has been widely recognised. In the Fast Company’s 2021 World Changing Ideas Awards, WACS was selected as a finalist in the Health and Wellness category and an honourable mention in the Pandemic Response category. It was also selected as the winner of the 2021 Amazon Web Services’ Global Public Sector Partner award for Most Valuable Amazon Connect Deployment.
developed a prototype solution within four days to meet the urgent requirement for increased call capacity
launched a new automated call service within seven days, enabling contact with up to 2500 vulnerable residents a day
enabled the council to find people unable to connect with the council themselves faster – and ensured no-one slipped through the net
enabled the council to support the original 30,000 shielded residents, plus a further 20,000+ added later, without resources being overwhelmed.
Under its shielding programme, the UK government asked millions of clinically vulnerable people to isolate at home during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. For several months, they would be unable to go out to get food or pick up prescriptions. Many were likely to suffer from loneliness or other hardships. The government asked local authorities to contact every person on the shielding list regularly to check whether they needed help. For Hampshire County Council, this meant having to contact up to 50,000 residents regularly to ensure they’re well.
Acting fast was essential. But with a dedicated call centre of 50 people established for the purpose, it could have taken months to contact everyone. A smarter, faster solution was needed.
Within seven days, we enabled the council to launch a Wellbeing Automated Call Service (WACS) that accelerates the contact process dramatically. WACS makes an initial automated call asking people whether they need support or not. Anyone who does is diverted to the call centre to talk to a live call handler, who can empathise, discuss options and provide onward connection to support, including a volunteer workforce. Using WACS in conjunction with its call centre resource, the council was able to contact up to 2500 people who were shielding every day.
Without WACS, we would have struggled with the volume of shielded list updates. The new automated call service means we can reach more residents, more quickly and help get them through isolation safely. We are already looking at how we can deploy the solution to improve efficiency and enhance services in other areas.
To develop the new service as quickly as possible, we turned to technology that’s already proven in the market: Amazon Connect, the cloud contact centre system from Amazon Web Service (AWS). By bringing together our digital expertise and our deep knowledge of the social care sector, we were able to build a solution and supporting processes that fitted the context – from developing scripts that are encouraging and accessible for people in a vulnerable situation, to incorporating robust processes to ensure data privacy. A key design principle was to make the service as accessible as possible including the use of landline phones and the ability to respond by voice, for example by saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ rather than pressing buttons.
We used an agile approach to speed up development, launching a prototype within a few days and then working with the council to refine it rapidly. This process played an important role in overcoming any initial scepticism all concerned might have had about an automated call service. The script was written collaboratively, building on the one the council already had in place in their human call centre. Once they had heard it voiced by a real person, there was an immediate sense of confidence that this was the right approach.
By the time shielding had ended, WACS had made almost 70,000 calls to 26,000 residents and ensured they had the right support. Crucially, the rapid scalability of WACS meant the council was able to manage the further 20,000+ names that were added to their shielding list as the pandemic progressed.
Longer term, the automated call service has exciting potential to help manage a range of different challenges, for example ‘back to work’ readiness calls to tens of thousands of council employees post-pandemic, the review of social care packages that the council provides, and a prompt for people to protect themselves by arranging their flu jab.
PA’s ability to move fast and achieve practical results was impressive. They worked carefully and conscientiously to help us develop the solution, always with a sense of concern for the people on the shielded list.