Healthwatch Wigan and Leigh contributed to the Public Services Committee’s inquiry on ‘Public Services: Lessons from Coronavirus’ and the oral evidence session on Wednesday 16th September 2020. One of our volunteers gave particularly strong experience as a person living with a disability and using health and social care service s during the pandemic which she agreed to share with a parliamentary select committee.
Read her story
Debra, who is a full-time wheelchair user and lives with a lifelong health condition, first became involved with Healthwatch Wigan and Leigh in 2017. Debra approached the organisation for independent advice about the options available for her so she could make informed choices about her health and social care.
Because of the positive relations that had been built with the Healthwatch team, Debra then decided to become one of our volunteers, as she was, and still is, passionate about being a voice to represent people with disabilities. Debra represents Healthwatch on all Equality and Diversity forums and collaborates with various public groups such as the CCG, Wigan Council, LGBT groups, and the police. In addition, Debra also finds time to volunteer at a local peer support group for other wheelchair users, and has been a qualified disability equality trainer for the last 17 years.
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the Healthwatch team were undertaking a project about living with long term health conditions. We asked Debra to record a blog about her own personal experiences and the challenges she had faced during lockdown.
It was brilliant news when Healthwatch England contacted us and asked if Debra would be willing to share this story with the Public Services Committee. Of course, Debra was absolutely delighted to be invited and be the voice for people with disabilities on this platform. In fact, Debra even gave up a day’s holiday with her daughter in Wales to be able to attend this event.
Debra was part of a public panel selected to share their views and experiences and disclose how they had coped under the lockdown and in this continuing pandemic. The members of the public chosen for this panel were to represent vulnerable, BAME, and disability cohorts of people from various national regions.
In the beginning of October, The Public Service Committee submitted a report to the government:
"COVID-19 has exposed weaknesses in public services and deepened inequalities – but the innovation we’ve seen at the frontline and in local areas can be a basis for reform"
- Baroness Hilary Armstrong, Chair of the House of Lords Public Services Committee
The first line of this report was in Debra's words:
“If it wasn’t for the support of my daughter, I wouldn’t have been able to cope.”
Debra was immensely proud that these words had been quoted and her daughter Amy had received this recognition, and added Amy was “as pleased as punch.”
Even though the report continues to discuss the failures in recent years to adequately fund social care and integrate health and care services, Debra wanted to stress that she feels ‘it’s happening on the ground’ here at Wigan. Debra told us she believes the Wigan Borough is listening to the people of Wigan and Leigh, and that the Wigan professionals are taking the initiatives. The more people that are confident to share their ideas, the more the authorities will want to listen and have an increased understanding of the challenges being demanded upon these services. The work of the CCG, Healthwatch, and Wigan Council are continuing to improve and influence commissioning of health and social care services.
Let us finish this story with some of Debra’s own words.
“My life's passion is to make a positive difference to people's lives, so they can feel self-empowered and able to be happy within themselves.
This can only be achieved if just one person stands up and speaks for those who are too afraid to speak out. I hope that my words have gone a small way to achieve this.”