Preventing people being forgotten in the pandemic

Katie Matthews’ mission is to change hearts and minds. She uses her own experiences as someone who has Down’s Syndrome, and a young carer, to speak up for people with a learning disability, autistic people and other vulnerable people.

She makes sure that people are not forgotten about during the pandemic.

As Social Media Lead for the Learning Disability and Autism Engagement team at NHS England, Katie, 31, has been working tirelessly throughout the pandemic to get as much information as possible out to people with a learning disability and autistic people and families through social media.

Follow @NHSAbility to see some of Katie’s brilliant work.

She has managed to keep track of all the many guides produced by the government, by the NHS and by other people and organisations, and made sure it is reaching the people who need it.

Katie has also been working really hard to co-produce easy read guidance during the pandemic after identifying a gap for this.

How does she feel about being a Coronavirus Leaders’ List winner? “Wow! I love this job with all my heart. I’m never going to leave.”

Katie kickstarted the idea of providing information about coronavirus on social media, saying it was an important way of getting information for people who have a learning disability like her.

Explains Katie, “I’ve come from voluntary work with other charities and I found through that a lot of people with learning disabilities, particularly people with mild learning disabilities and family carers, go on Facebook and Twitter a lot.

“I used that knowledge and said to my boss, Jo Whaley, ‘we have all these people on social media (6000 on Twitter, 2000 on Facebook), we need to reach them.’”

Katie faced her own challenges through lockdown, shielding alongside her mum. She coped with shielding by focusing on keeping herself and her mum safe. Spoiling each other on birthdays also helped.

“Mum had a big birthday in the summer and we had a Zoom party to celebrate. I sent cakes from Betty’s to everyone who was invited so could all have cake together.  It was my birthday recently and my team sent me a big box of cakes from Betty’s.”

Katie is using her experiences of shielding to help improve things for others. She runs an NHS Learning Disability and Autism Advisory group which met in the summer to shape the future of shielding. The group comprises 15 experts by experience, all with a learning disability, family carers or autistic people.

Explains Katie, “We shaped a meeting around shielding and our experiences of lockdown. We got quite a lot of feedback from that, which we fed back to the Cabinet Office.”

Katie has also led a webinar on experiences of shielding, covering all aspects of it. The feedback from this has been shared with the Cabinet Office.

Katie recently made a really powerful video about how coronavirus has affected some people more than others and about how it is impacting on people’s mental health. She also made a video about face coverings and exemptions.

Katie also started writing poetry in lockdown.

“I just thought we need some positivity and every time there was something negative on the news or radio I just wrote a poem that’s positive.” In her poem ‘Together We’ll Beat This’ Katie talks about the importance of working together to get through lockdown.

As well as staying on topic of social media during Covid, Katie has been keeping important work going around promoting flu vaccines, annual health checks and getting people onto the learning disability register. It has been quite a juggling act!

Says Jo Whaley, Public Engagement Manager, “Katie has risen to the challenges of coronavirus in a phenomenal way, using her skills and compassion to make sure that everyone is included. She has continued to work incredibly hard, despite difficult personal circumstances, to make sure that people have the information they need in ways that are accessible to them. She has been a true role model during the pandemic.”

Follow @NHSAbility to see some of Katie’s brilliant work.