Vulnerable people self-isolating are being assisted with shopping and helped with their mental health during the COVID-19 crisis across Ards and North Down, Northern Ireland, in a unique approach spearheaded by EHPs.
Many NI council EH teams have a health and wellbeing division and already provide help for vulnerable groups – those aged over 65, and those with physical disabilities – so already have a database of people who may need their help.
In the case of Ards and North Down Borough Council, this is being led by EHP Jennifer Parkinson, whose team has been using the council's mapping software to join up delivery of groceries and hot food services with vulnerable groups.
Parkinson, EH manager (health and wellbeing), is working with the community services colleagues to deliver a range of support services to the most vulnerable. They have set up a small support team and extra help is being drafted in from other council departments. Using the team’s food register, the division has contacted every business to compile a database of businesses and the services they offer – along with with details such as how to order and how delivery and payment works, including options for people who are not tech-savvy. A second similar list has been compiled for pharmacies listing services and delivery options, as well as a third list of volunteers and groups assisting.
Parkinson said it has then been a question of ringing round those on the vulnerable list and matching them up with services. She said: “The home safety officers and EH officers on the team are giving them a ring, checking they are OK, confirming that they know what social distancing means and what it means for an older vulnerable person.
“They check whether they have food and supplies, whether they have somebody to deliver it to them. If not, and they are having to go out themselves they are checking whether they are making use of the special hours for vulnerable people.”
The team can help set up food and medicine deliveries needed by linking to volunteer groups or ringing food businesses directly. As a backup the neighbourhood environment team, who have vehicles, are on standby. “So in the absence of anything else they will go out and do the shopping that’s required,” Parkinson adds.
Apart from the immediate concerns around physical health and getting enough food to eat, the team is also helping to preserve mental health. They have developed scripts with advice from the local health and social care trust - using the ‘five steps to wellbeing’ protocol – for this initial phone call as well as in any regular follow-up check-in phone calls that are also being offered. The five steps are: connect; give; take notice; keep learning; and exercise.
Lack of exercise and its impact on both physical and mental health was a worry, Parkinson said. “It’s very concerning. We also know being active prevents accidents. If people are trapped in their own homes how much exercise is going on? It’s about helping encourage exercise – even if it’s just walking around their garden.
“It’s a natural extension of our home accident prevention work, which was always holistic – we referred to occupational therapy as well as knit and natter groups, art classes, and befriending schemes.”
Co-ordinated alongside this, the EH food division has also been speaking to businesses ensuring that they have good food hygiene practices in place – particularly focusing on those that have switched to takeaway and deliveries, or have high footfall, or a low FHRS. They are also ensuring that the businesses know what public health measures their delivery drivers should be taking, to protect themselves and their customers.
Health and wellbeing usually also assists families with under-fives but because this group is thought to be more tech-savvy the focus has been on older people and those with disabilities. But anyone who finds themselves in a situation where they are vulnerable and need assistance can ring the council and request help, and can be put on the call-back list.
A second support team from the Community Development department is fielding the incoming calls and using databases to offer the same support to all ages. The two teams link together to pass on referrals to the local health trust where there are serious concerns about medical conditions or mental wellbeing.
"It is early days and further strands of work are developing as the situation continues including arranging food packages to the most vulnerable and assisting the local food banks, but there is a determination to ensure that the council offers as much assistance as it can to those in need," Parkinson says.
EHPs or councils wishing to replicate this work in their own authority can contact Parkinson at [email protected]