Chief Executive Lesslie Young looks at the move to digital, the importance of remaining flexible, innovative, and accepting meaningful communication is more than looking at and touching a cold screen.
The ongoing digital sea change
Earlier this week Nicola Sturgeon announced new funding to enable care homes across Scotland to provide tablets to stay connected during the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown.
The £1 million fund will help care home residents communicate with friends and relatives, but it still leaves a gaping hole in the real and well evidenced need for those people to feel the warmth of a loved one’s hand. The opportunity it provides to support the clinical management of health conditions remotely is important and accepted. Is it a stretch to wonder if that gaping hole was closed the need for the latter might be reduced?
As an organisation, Epilepsy Scotland knows the digital sea change has many benefits, but the value of being flexible, innovative, creating new ways to support people, not residents, not clients, but people, when their need is greatest cannot be overstated. The work done and the adaptations made by our Wellbeing Team, Youth Group Leaders and all our other services is proof of how it can be successful. All this whilst looking toward a blended, accessible approach in the future.
Digital inclusion is more than having the right equipment.
The Epilepsy Scotland Wellbeing group in Glasgow can be a start to retain independence after a diagnosis of epilepsy. The commonality of shared experiences can have a profound positive effect on participants.
Knowing some others share negative feelings related to the condition such as guilt or anger allows the participants to acknowledge these feelings and deal with them positively. People describe participating in the group gives them the feeling they are not alone.
At the onset of lockdown our Wellbeing team spoke individually to all the people accessing this service. Moving meetings to a digital space via zoom was welcomed by many but it does not replace meeting in person and the peer support that a group provides.
In September we restarted face to face group meetings, outdoor activities with the Youth Groups in Edinburgh and Glasgow. All following the guidelines and COVID-19 safe. The numbers participating were telling. Despite this and almost nine months on and we are still seeing the detrimental affect the ongoing pandemic and not physically seeing people in their support networks has had on the mental health of group participants. In addition, there is the very real ‘zoom fatigue’ experienced as so many of their support services have moved to digital delivery. Do we assume all this does or will hold true for those people living in residential settings?
For some people in our groups a combination of digital, telephone calls and texting works well for the moment. Although far from perfect, interim digital methods have meant we can welcome people from further afield and have proven invaluable to maintaining a connection and providing ongoing support through a challenging and confusing time for the people attending our groups but does not replace or reap the same benefits as personal contact and interaction.
A digital success story
The increase in digital familiarity and use of software like zoom has opened doors for our youth work. Unsurprisingly, young people in our youth groups are skilled with technology, but some are limited by the equipment available to them and few have their own devices.
In the summer, we ran a small but very successful pilot to provide laptops for young people with epilepsy in our group and further afield.
With no hard-geographical boundaries, we can welcome young people from across Scotland and must continue to ensure anyone who wants to access support services has the digital equipment and knowledge to do so.
A blended approached is key
Last week, Epilepsy Scotland announced that we will be ‘going digital’ with our information factsheets and booklets and limiting the number of physical copies printed and posted.
All our resources are available to download from our website and as with our other services, a blended approach is key to ensure information resources are available in an accessible format to those who need them.
Keeping in touch does not address the human need for touch. With creative thinking and innovation and of course, effort, it is possible to have both. For all, but especially the people living in residential settings, to feel the comforting warmth of a loved one’s hand would be worth so much more than a million pounds.