The “tremendous effort” by staff and volunteers in bringing the new Orkney Coronavirus Community Support Hub to fruition has been praised.
Now in its second week of operation, Maureen Swannie, of Orkney Health and Care who heads up the team, said: “We have been able to report to the Scottish Government that we are at an ‘enhanced state of readiness’ – this is solely due to everyone pulling together.
“I am truly humbled with how this has been handled - a new team in a new base with new processes, new ways of working and new colleagues – lots of changes in one fell swoop but everyone has been amazing, including the Pickaquoy Centre Trust staff, without whom this wouldn’t have been possible.
“On top of that we have around 50 volunteers already signed up, with a further 20 referrals from Voluntary Action Orkney, which is an incredible number and shows the willingness of everyone to help.”
Staff at the Hub continue to contact and support those identified by the NHS as being most at risk from Covid-19.
GP surgeries are in the process of speaking with patients who have received an NHS letter, and are notifying the Hub of the most vulnerable folk in Orkney for onward contact.
In the meantime, anyone who has received a letter can telephone the Hub on 0800 111 4000 (Option 8) or email the Hub staff here if they require support, whether that be for accessing medication, food, essential household items and healthcare services.
The facility, which is based within the Pickaquoy Centre, is not open to the public, but the lines are manned seven days a week, from 9:00 to 17:00.
Maureen explained how it works: “We have twenty call handlers in four teams of five, working shifts over seven days, one social worker on call, one administrator, and one volunteer co-ordinator, two managers and myself.
“Call handlers are answering phone calls and responding to emails, dealing with a variety of questions and issues being faced. Some of the calls can be emotive for our call handlers to deal with, but we have set up a Teams group to allow communication between ourselves to allow us to look after everyone involved.
“We are linking with the hospital assessment centre too – they are signposting folk to us who are isolating and need help.”
She added: “I cannot thank the Pickaquoy Centre staff enough for all they continue to do to assist and some businesses, for example Post Office staff, are also going above and beyond. This Orkney wide effort is heartening at this time.”
Anna Whelan, strategy manager OIC Corporate Services, is co-ordinating the volunteer effort.
She said: “If anyone is keen to help I would suggest they sign up with VAO. We have enough redeployed OIC staff to cover the call centre end of the operation, so volunteers are being deployed into two main tasks both of which can be done from home without needing to come into the Hub.
“Volunteers are delivering essential shopping or prescriptions, or other essential odd jobs, but at no time do they come into physical contact with our clients, it is all arranged by phone.
“We also have a number of young volunteers keen to help with bicycle deliveries or other errands including in some cases dog walking for anyone being shielded who is not able to get out. Dog walking for a vulnerable person is a permitted activity.”
Anna continued: “Other volunteers are ‘follow-up callers’ willing to call folk for a chat, perhaps if they are feeling stressed and it would help to talk to somebody. These are difficult times, especially for those who are being ‘shielded’ ie those most at risk.
“We have a number of volunteers with experience in counselling signed up for this along with other folk who are just good at listening. We have a social worker assigned to us who can advise our volunteers if they have concerns about anybody’s wellbeing.”
When someone seeks assistance from the Hub, staff will identify the most appropriate volunteer in their locality.
“Many vulnerable people have their own support networks in place but we are here as a backup in case any of their regular helpers have to drop out to self-isolate. We are linked into lots of other local networks as we don’t want to duplicate the other support schemes that people are setting up, but it is a dynamic situation and none of us know who will be available from one day to the next. So we can all act as backup for each other when needed.”
Those who are being shielded are the Hub’s first priority, but once it has been established support is in place, they anticipate having the capacity to help others in the community who may find themselves unexpectedly in need of assistance.
The six categories of people at highest risk of severe illness from Covid-19 have been identified by the NHS as: solid organ transplant recipients; people with specific cancers; people with severe respiratory conditions including all cystic fibrosis, severe asthma and severe COPD; People with rare diseases and inborn errors of metabolism that significantly increase the risk of infections (such as SCID, homozygous sickle cell); people on immunosuppression therapies sufficient to significantly increase risk of infection; people who are pregnant with significant congenital heart disease.