Since the first lockdown in March, people living alone who are elderly and disabled, have suffered the greatest harm to their mental health and wellbeing as a result of covid restrictions designed to protect them. Each time there’s a surge in covid cases they are effectively locked up in their own homes, recently described by Boris Johnson as being under ‘house arrest’.
Nobody doubts the risks posed by covid to elderly residents and people with underlying health conditions if good clear guidance is ignored but, to date, there has been no attempt to address the harm these restrictions are causing to those who live alone.
People who live alone have been experiencing loneliness and isolation like never before as a result of being cut off from their families. Some people have not had direct contact with anyone other than carers for months.
Others who are self caring but housebound may have seen nobody at all, other than for food and medicine drop offs, made worse by the fact that they are unable to meet people outdoors and, with winter approaching, even more elderly people who normally meet with others outdoors will now find themselves ‘confined to barracks’.
Current guidance permits indoor visits for the purposes of providing care or support a vulnerable person. Such visits should of course be conducted in accordance with guidelines regarding social distancing, face coverings and hand hygiene. However, the guidance is unclear as to whether or not tending to someone’s mental health and wellbeing comes under ‘providing care and support’, with the presumption being that it does not.
Aberdeen councillor Steve Delaney is taking a motion to next Monday’s council meeting seeking to address the issue by asking the council to write to the First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Health & Wellbeing asking for clarification that visits to address mental health needs comes under the definition of providing care and support or, if not, to bring forward appropriate changes to guidance which would allow this.
Councillor Delaney said, “Everyone’s primary aim is to keep people safe but the current restrictions make no allowance for elderly or disabled people who live alone. Visits would almost certainly need to be limited in respect of numbers and it would be expected that the same guidelines applying to paid carers would apply. I’m most certainly not suggesting a complete lifting of restrictions in respect of people living alone. That would put lives at risk”.
“Both Governments have based support arrangements around ’social bubbles’ which work well for couples who do not live together and for informal childcare arrangements. Where they fail older people and vulnerable adults is that by forming a bubble with one elderly or vulnerable adult, you exclude doing so with others in your family and many families have more than one elderly or disabled relative. The other issue with bubbles is that we are told there’s no need for social distancing or face coverings and hugs are allowed. Where an individual in a bubble is vulnerable such an approach would be potentially dangerous”.
“Next Monday I’m asking all parties to put their political differences to one side and come together to support elderly and disabled people who live alone and to do it in a safe way. Indeed the same should apply equally to a younger person who is living alone and struggling with their mental health”.
“We all speak about treating mental health on an equal footing with physical health so lets do something about it”.
“I fully appreciate the guidance requires clarification and/or changes at national level, but that does not preclude Aberdeen’s elected councillors showing leadership by uniting in a common cause and reaching out to our national representatives to make this happen”.
“Accordingly and in the spirit of goodwill, I have written to all five political group leaders in advance of the meeting asking for their support. I’m sure many people across Aberdeen, and indeed across Scotland as a whole, will be looking to them to support this proposal and end the isolation being suffered by those are often unable to speak out for themselves”.