NHS Lothian and Carer Voices have worked together to provide support to carers during the pandemic.

The arrival of COVID-19 has brought many new challenges for carers in Scotland. In response, NHS Lothian have partnered with the ALLIANCE Carer Voices project to offer carers a check-in and chat service, connected separated families through technology and launched a hug in a postcard. This partnership was made possible due to the project’s strong relationships with many NHS Lothian nursing colleagues.

The 24/7 check-in and chat telephone support service has been offered for carers and families of people living with dementia in acute hospitals to help provide some reassurance to carers and loved ones, answer basic queries and link people to local services and support during the outbreak. Gillian McAuley, Acute Nurse Director at NHS Lothian, said: “I have found real personal value engaging with the third sector, particularly our friends at the ALLIANCE. Sometimes we can become insular in our thinking, especially now as we move along this unknown path. Fresh ideas and thinking are really helpful. The check-in and chat service has provided additional support to our staff, patients and their families by allowing people time to have conversations that they need.”

Health and social care staff at NHS Lothian have also been affected by the pandemic. NHS Lothian staff have been so stretched that they have had to call back retired medics and it is not unusual for staff to have been living away from their families for fear of bringing the virus home. One of the most difficult aspects of COVID-19 for staff, however, has been the uncertainty of when they will next see those closest to them. The enforced lockdown, along with social distancing guidelines, means that many people are spending significant time apart from people they love.

To support their staff to, in turn, support carers, NHS Lothian worked in partnership with the Carer Voices project to create a hug in a postcard and spread love while following Government guidance. And Gillian added that NHS Lothian intends to continue this initiative into the future “well beyond COVID-19.” NHS Lothian recognises that health care professionals must be flexible to meet the needs of people and their carers and make their system suit them, rather than the other way round; and this way of working requires culture change.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, NHS Lothian had already recognised the paramount importance of developing a workforce and community with behaviours, skills and competencies that support and drive person-centred approaches to wellbeing, prevention, care and support. And at a time when the Carer Voices project was unable to deliver intelligent kindness improvement sessions in person, the project opted to offer a digital format for NHS Lothian colleagues. The live induction day sessions played a part in boosting morale at a time of increased pressure. Reflecting on these sessions, Gillian added that: “They have been really helpful in setting out the principles for intelligent kindness. As our students embark on their early return to practice, it has been important for us to collectively remind ourselves what matters. They provide a framework to our common sense of purpose.”

In the last few weeks, the NHS has created and worked within new flexibilities that allow healthcare professionals to respond to the growing challenges brought forth by COVID-19. Gillian said: “COVID-19 has changed us and our services. Someday over the rainbow, it will be less of a focus but I believe we will keep doing all the good stuff.” This work has demonstrated elements of short-term COVID-19 crisis solutions that can, and absolutely should be, leveraged for true transformation. Partnerships like these that have focused on what matters to people are the ones that will be most ready to engage new flexibilities and guide us through these uncharted waters.