A Balancing Act
We can all agree these are challenging times, beyond what we could ever imagine.
The initial response to coronavirus was to stop the spread, save lives and protect the NHS. Many necessary measures have been put in place to suppress transmission and keep people safe, but we are also looking into the impact of such steps.
More than 170,00 people were asked to take drastic action to protect themselves: ‘shielding’, going beyond what others are being asked to do to stay safe. This is based entirely on clinical risk, and a move agreed jointly by the four UK nations. It also includes adults of all ages, as well as children and young people, and most older people do not fall into this group.
These measures are hard, and people will be coping with them in very different ways. Feeling isolated and lonely can be unbearably magnified, especially for those without access to the internet or who might not have people nearby they can turn to. We sorely miss friends, family and general social interactions, and feel very cut off as a result.
Unfortunately, we cannot yet end the lockdown. So, it’s crucial we provide support to those who are feeling impacted worst.
Part of our £350 million wellbeing funding has been made available to councils, charities, businesses and community groups because they are best placed to respond to specific local needs. Funding is also going to national organisations to increase their services during the pandemic:
• Age Scotland
• The Befriending Network
• Outside the Box
• Generations Working Together
• LGBT Health & Wellbeing
• Minority ethnic older people’s groups
Age is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. This means people cannot be treated differently, and unfavourably, on the sole basis of belonging to a certain age group.
Stricter physical distancing imposed based solely on age is only justifiable to protect individuals, their families and the wider public. It has to be based on evidence, informed by data and discussed with age equality stakeholders.
We know older people are more likely to become seriously ill and die if they contract the virus. It is unclear if that’s due to advancing age itself. Clinical evidence on this will be an important consideration as our policy develops.
We want to empower individuals and communities but the coronavirus response may feel contrary to that. Our main goal is to co-ordinate action across society and the more people contributing to that national plan the sooner restrictions will end.
The current emergency response must maintain effective public services and prepare for recovery, where equality and human rights will play a central role.
We will continue to work to do everything we can to protect and support older people. But we all need to do our bit to slow the spread of the virus and, ultimately, save lives.
I would like to thank everyone for their ongoing patience whilst we understand, learn and continue to develop our response – the right response – for Scotland.
Latest guidance about COVID-19 from NHS Scotland and the Scottish Government, including social distancing and stay at home advice can be found here.
A new national helpline – 0800 111 4000 – has been set up to provide essential assistance to those who do not have a network of support but who are at high risk of contracting COVID-19.
In addition Age Scotland can also provide advice, support and friendship via their free Helpline 0800 12 44 222.
There are still resources available for organisations through the Wellbeing Fund, and I would encourage relevant groups to register their interest online.
Anyone else looking for support should visit www.readyscotland.org.