By Bill Heaney
Just how well are our older people being looked after during the Covid pandemic – and are they getting what they need to help them survive through the lockdown?
The Scottish Government has been asked what plans it has to help older people to access essential requirements including food, medical attention and prescription.
The Minister for Older People and Equalities, Christina McKelvie.
The Minister for Older People and Equalities, Christina McKelvie, has told MSPs: “We have made available £15 million of funding for local authorities that are already at protection level 4 in order to strengthen their local response, and to support the needs of people in their communities who do not have support networks and are struggling with the restrictions or guidance—particularly those who are most at risk through health or social inequalities.
“That could include people who are at higher clinical risk, older people and disabled people who encounter barriers that emerge—for example, in accessing food and other essential items.
“We can all help by looking out for others. Some people will continue to rely on family, friends and neighbours for help with getting food and other essentials.
“Anyone who needs additional advice, information, support or help can call the free national assistance helpline on 0800 111 4000, which is available from Monday to Friday from 9 am to 5 pm. The helpline continues to provide a freephone connection to local authorities, which can provide additional support including access to food, pharmacy services, social services, emotional support, and third sector services and even volunteers.
“Advice on how to get help for those who need it and advice for people who want to help others safely in their community is available at ready.scot.
Tory Tom Mason told her: “Back in March last year, over-75s were asked to shield for four weeks, which quickly became eight weeks, then 12, then until the summer, then until Christmas, and now well into the spring.
“Those who are living alone will face isolation and loneliness as face-to-face contact is again reduced. Understandably, many older folk are now near their wits’ end.
“Age Scotland is warning that another lockdown will be extremely difficult for older people to endure, and that a winter action plan will be needed to ensure that they can access the food, medicines and treatments that are needed in order to get through the latest measures.”
He asked the Minister to commit to delivering those provisions in a winter plan for our older people, as they face the challenges that the restrictions will bring in the weeks ahead.
Christina McKelvie said: “I have seen the Age Scotland report that Tom Mason has referenced, which includes all the challenges to which he referred.
“Age Scotland is one of our key partners on the national implementation group on social isolation and loneliness, and members will not be surprised to hear that we have been working closely together.
“We have a national helpline that is run by Age Scotland and has been funded by the Scottish Government to the tune of almost £1 million.
“We are working closely with the national implementation group. We are also working closely with members of our older people’s strategic action forum, who regularly come to us with intelligence, issues and challenges, and with very good ideas about what is happening on the ground.
“We are working across those sectors in a number of areas, including access to food, pharmacy services and volunteers—the whole thing—in order to support older people in lockdown. We know that the restrictions have been absolutely terrible for older people, especially older people who do not have a support network around them.
“We have in place a winter plan, which we announced just before Christmas and is funded to the tune of £100 million. A huge proportion of that is to support older people so that they can remain connected, and to ensure that those connections are sustainable in the future.”
She added: “We realise that this winter will be particularly difficult for older people. As we know, lockdown restrictions are necessary, but they are also very hard.
“I will continue to work alongside our older people’s strategic action forum, which is absolutely determined to come up with ideas that will best meet older people’s needs, and is working closely with people who are affected.
“I am pleased to say that funding of more than £1.3 million has been provided to allow the forum to react, reach out and support its networks.
We will continue to update and publish guidance on the support that is available to help people to overcome challenges in accessing and affording food and other essentials.”
Christine Grahame MSP said: “This dreadful virus has made it necessary for elderly people to access the internet for essentials and—which is perhaps more important—for human contact. I commend the work of Outside the Box. It provides elderly people in my constituency with tablets and 24 gigabyte pay-as-you-go data SIM cards, which gives them access to the internet, together with individualised support through the digital buddies project.
“Does the Minister agree that that project should be replicated across Scotland? Now that I have heard the chink of money—by which I mean the £1.3 million that the minister mentioned—I ask her to say whether any would be available to roll out the project elsewhere in Scotland.”
Labour’s James Kelly, left, said: “I am very concerned about the loneliness situation among pensioners in Glasgow. Many pensioners are cut off from their families and are unable to leave their homes, and they do not have access to their normal support networks, such as local pensioners clubs.
“For some pensioners, that has resulted in a desperate situation, where they are suffering from not only loneliness but depression.”
Christina McKelvie told him: “We know about all the groups and the organisations that we are involved in, but we need to make contact with people who may not be involved in those groups and organisations.
“That is why a lot of our media campaigns and the work that we do are around ensuring that people get the right information and the support that they need. We need everybody to pass on that information about support.”
“We have funded the older people’s strategic action forum to go online and to be digital, to make and sustain those connections and carry people through the pandemic. Many aspects of the work that the forum has been doing help to make those connections and identify those people.”
And what about older people who are shielding?
The Minister said: “We have made a £15 million flexible fund available to local authorities that are at protection level 4 to strengthen the local response to supporting the needs of people who do not have support networks, including those on the shielding list, older people and disabled people. Anyone who needs advice or support can call the national assistance helpline—I cannot overstate how important that is. I hope that everybody puts that information on their social media and advertises that helpline in any other way that they can. The helpline connects to local authorities, which can provide practical and emotional support, including access to food and other essential items.
“In December, we sent everyone on the shielding list a booklet providing advice and information on the support that is available. That is especially important for people with less digital access to information and helpline numbers. I know from the feedback that I have had from the older people’s strategic action forum that getting the booklet through the door was a real benefit for those people.”