Dr Luke Evans is a member of the Health Select Committee, and is MP for Bosworth.
Having been an MP for not much more than a hundred days, it’s very difficult to tell what is ‘normal’ for a constituency office, although I feel very safe in saying that what has been happening over these past few weeks definitely isn’t. You don’t need to have been in the chamber for 20 years to know that the word ‘unprecedented’ isn’t being thrown around lightly.
During the past seven days, my office has been inundated with calls and emails from worried constituents. My casework system has seen 400 plus new emails from residents and businesses entered onto it, for the most part each of which represents a new case. If quick, many contacts aren’t getting as far as being logged onto the system. I hear from colleagues that a caseload like this is far from exceptional at the present time.
It became clear from very early on that I needed a plan for dealing with contacts, and for me that meant resorting to my medical training.
I mentioned in my maiden speech that a personal philosophy has long been ‘to help those can’t and empower those who can’. It seems in many ways that it’s an ethos which is driving the Government in these difficult times too.
Of course, in any walk of life a philosophy is little more than an inspirational poster on a teenage bedroom wall unless it can be put into practice.
Holding Skype conversations with my team we quickly decided on a three-pronged strategy for dealing with constituents.
The first was to communicate. It was vital from the start to get the message out about social distancing, sell-isolation and shielding; whether that was through writing to our local newspaper or video messages, some of which have now had hundreds of thousands of engagements. Equally important was the need to let constituents know how to access the services that they will become so dependent on during this stage of lockdown. Wherever we can we have signposted to gov.uk/coronavirus and the platforms that its message has migrated to, and my constituency website is being updated daily.
The second strand has been to organise. As I see it one of my key tasks has been to bring organisations together and within the first few days I had written to parish, borough and county councillors and local government senior officers urging them to work collaboratively to establish local volunteer networks to support the most vulnerable.
I’ve made it very much my role to be in regular contact with schools, GP surgeries and the police, and when one asks a question, or has a need, having the knowledge and open lines to put them quickly in contact with someone best placed to respond has proved invaluable.
The most direct route to helping those who can’t falls within the third strand; problem-solving. Whether it is the relatively easy job of using my social media platform to find urgent nursery provision for key workers; through to helping constituents stranded abroad get back to the UK; or, seeking ministerial advice on the intricacies of self-isolation in exceptional circumstances.
It goes without saying that none of the three prongs can ever sit in isolation. Our local volunteer network has got off to a great start, and when it was inundated with calls organisation quickly blends into communication, and problem solving is represented by constituents being referred to receive help.
It would be very easy at times like this to simply firefight problems as they come in, and that may work for a while; but my training tells me we have to have a clear process in how we triage the support that we can give.
With such a huge volume of contacts, and so many worried people asking questions or in need of help, it’s vital that when we can we show them to the most appropriate point; and when they can’t we can identify and provide the help that they need.