Care home residents and patients across Surrey are able to keep in touch with friends and family, thanks to newly introduced video calling devices installed in a number of care homes and hospitals.

The initiative is one of a number of measures being introduced by partners across Surrey to support the most vulnerable and socially isolated residents remain connected during the pandemic, helping to reduce feelings of isolation and offering emotional support through contact with friends and family.

Surrey was the first area in the country to be selected by NHSX, the digital arm of NHS England, to take part in the scheme and learnings from the county will be used in other areas. 50 Portal devices have been provided free of charge to care homes and hospital trusts by Facebook and NHSX, with support and training for staff. Infection control measures are also in place to maintain the high hygiene levels currently in place across care home settings when using the shared device.

Katherine Church, Joint Chief Digital Officer for Surrey County Council and Surrey Heartlands Integrated Care System said: “Current social isolation measures pose a real challenge to the health and wellbeing of Surrey residents, especially those who can become socially isolated from friends and family.

“I’m delighted that Surrey has been selected as the first pilot site in the UK to roll out this fantastic initiative, and that we can now offer a solution to bring families closer together, offering support and companionship at a time when we need it more than ever.”

Greenbanks Care Home is one of the local care homes taking part. Yasheen Rajan, Director of the home said: “Technology can be an incredible leveller between the young and old. One of our residents recently had a call using Facebook’s portal with his 3-year old great grandson. Neither of them had used the system before and it was wonderful to see how natural and au fait they both were conversing over the portal within a few seconds. Our residents may not fully understand ‘the what’ effect Covid is having on the world but they can tell something is different and that can be unsettling. Being able to see and hear their relatives is incredibly comforting.”

Further support to care homes

Throughout the pandemic the amount of information and guidance shared across health and care organisations has, at times, been overwhelming. With such a fast moving situation it has been a real challenge for organisations providing care to stay up-to-speed. With care homes staff under real pressure Surrey Heartlands has worked with the Surrey Care Association to create a quick reference guide to collate key information on everything from testing and PPE to training and mental wellbeing support for staff. The poster that can be displayed in staff areas has been delivered to all 341 care homes in Surrey Heartlands along with details of dedicated clinical leads to support each home and guidance about calling 999/111.