The impact of Covid 19 on mental health is a huge concern as citizens face fear, uncertainty, economic turmoil and isolation. Indeed emerging studies are already showing Covid-19’s detrimental impact on mental health. The Academy was due to debate some of these issues at a Forum event on Social Isolation this month, which was postponed. We need to consider how we could redevelop something with the direct focus on exacerbated impact due to Covid.

Two of the Academy team have been working with the Surrey Heartlands Digital Team on a project aiming to tackle social isolation by providing video calling devices to care settings.

Care home residents and patients across Surrey can now keep in touch with friends and family with a Facebook Portal device. Surrey Heartlands was the first pilot site 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 to roll out the project nationwide in the coming weeks. 50 Portal devices have been provided free of charge by Facebook and NHSX.

Explained Heather Bokota, who project managed this work: “These Portals are very nifty video calling devices, and have gone down particularly well in the many residential homes in Surrey, not only for older age adults but also those with learning disabilities. This is a great example of how technology can be used to connect people with their children, grandchildren, parents and friends even if they can’t meet in person.”

Greenbanks Care Home is just one of the local care homes which received the Portal device and whose residents are enjoying virtual time with their loved ones. 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 three-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.   

“We see huge benefits in using the Facebook’s portal, especially with residents who have dementia. 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 at this time.”