Providing a lifeline to older people during the pandemic

BLOG: Lisa Butland on how rapid deployment of technology is helping to keep older people connected

5th June 2020

Older people are among some of the hardest hit during the current pandemic. The effects of lockdown and lack of social interaction is increasing loneliness and recent research has highlighted the impact the crisis is having on older people’s mental health. The NHSA’s Active and Healthy Ageing Associate, Lisa Butland, discusses the challenges faced by older people during the crisis and how rapid deployment of technology is helping to provide a lifeline.

New research sourced by Age UK, shows that 6.4m people aged 70 and over in Great Britain are worried about the effect that Coronavirus is having on their life right now, with 2.9m of them saying their mental health has been affected by Coronavirus.

As Chief Executive of Age UK Calderdale and Kirklees, a role I deliver alongside my NHSA position, I have seen first-hand how the lockdown is negatively impacting older people.

Having regular contact with others can be a lifeline for older people who are struggling with social isolation. Given the current situation we are facing, the need for a service of this kind has never been greater.

We’ve had to completely remodel our service and how we support our clients. Pre-COVID-19, much of our service offer focused on face-to-face interaction, so we have had to adapt quickly to ensure older people in our area continue to receive the support they have come to rely on when they need it most.

Digital technology is helping us to manage the transition – particularly in relation to our befriending service. Working in partnership with Yorkshire Children’s Centre (Community Connections), Kirkwood Hospice, Royal Voluntary Service, and Locala, we formed the Befriending Partnership in 2018. In April this year, the partnership received funding from Kirklees Council to deliver this vital service in telephone format as an emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic, working alongside our colleagues at the Yorkshire Children’s Centre.

We have teamed up with two innovative businesses, Peopletoo and Novoville – who were recently awarded funding to develop a volunteering app as part of the government’s TechForce19 Challenge -to develop and test the solution.

Within just a matter of weeks, they have adapted pre-existing technology to support the rapid implementation of the app to enable us to make the telephone befriending service live.

One core function of the app is a digital dashboard of activity which enables all partners to share and access information online – something which is vitally important when working across five different organisations.

The app also features a communication tool which supports the volunteers. We can push out messages directly to all the volunteers and it also allows them to log the details of each of the calls they make.

The pace at which this app has been implemented is incredible. We’re already beginning to see the benefits of this technology, both from the perspective of efficiencies in the way that we work, such as reduced admin time, but more importantly, in the service and support we’re providing to our clients.

The tool gives us an insight into trends and specific areas of concern raised by clients during the calls, which will help us tailor support and advice based on need. For example, if we start to see a lot of clients talking about financial concerns, we can inform all our volunteers so they are prepared and able to give the relevant signposting should these worries be voiced in future calls.

It’s still early days, but we’re confident in the long-term that app will enable us to more easily capture data and report KPIs, and there are plans for additional functionality to be developed over time.

This partnership project is just one example of how we’ve had to change and adapt as an organisation. Everything has been remodelled. Some areas, such as the foot care service, have shut down completely.

The day care service has been the biggest challenge. We used to have around 300 people a week visiting our centres to get together for a chat, take part in activities, and enjoy a hot midday meal.

We’ve now switched to offering social activities virtually – everything from telephone bingo to virtual birthday parties, and each week we’re adding more and more group activities. In addition, we’re delivering meals to those who need them and offering a food shopping support service.

As is the case for everyone, we are having to innovate through necessity, and we will continue to do everything we can to ensure older people aren’t left behind and are supported through the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

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