The EU-funded mPower team at NHS Western Isles has adapted its working practices in order to continue helping the elderly during the coronavirus outbreak.
mPower uses digital interventions to enable elderly people in remote areas to live safely and independently in their own homes by introducing them to various health and wellbeing technologies.
Sue Long, mPower Implementation Lead, has been working as part of the EU INTEREG VA-funded project, mPower, since its inception in November 2017.
Based in Stornoway, Sue leads the four-person team covering the whole of the Western Isles helping the elderly and those who have long-term health conditions and chronic illnesses to create wellbeing plans, in a bid to improve their day to day lives.
The mPower project has received approximately €9.2m in funding through the European Union’s INTERREG VA Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB). It operates across Ayrshire and Arran, Dumfries and Galloway and the Western Isles, as well as in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Over the past two months, the team has had to adapt its ways of working to continue helping older and more vulnerable people throughout the current crisis.
Sue said: “The project is all about helping people live well and safely in their own homes and introducing them to different technologies which can support them to do so.
“One of the main things we've been focusing on over the past couple of months is keeping people connected. All care homes across the Western Isles have been supplied with iPads by the NHS, so we've been helping residents use this technology to keep in touch with their families since people are no longer allowed to visit their relatives. We have trained the Care Home Managers how to use a trusted NHS platform called Near Me to allow the family meetings to happen.
“Some people have very little understanding of how to use this kind of technology, so to be able to help them with it is really rewarding. We’ve been told that after being shown how to use the iPad, one resident was so excited about seeing his family over a video call that he barely slept the night before.
“In the past, we used to tell people about events and social groups happening in their local area so they could go out and socialise, but as that’s no longer an option, we’ve been turning to digital alternatives.
“The ‘daily ceilidh’ for residents in Bernera and Uig is a great example of this. It’s an on-line coffee morning that takes place every day where people can come together and chat to others.
“Videoconferencing technology is also being used to remotely connect people with health professionals, so they don’t have to be seen by a doctor in person. This is hugely helpful for people who live in remote communities across the Western Isles anyway, but it’s vital more so now than ever given current circumstances.
“We don’t just work exclusively with the elderly. The issues we help people with can affect all ages, for example, psychological wellbeing, which has been another key focus area for us.
“All members of our team are trained in psychological first aid, so when they’re talking to service users they know how to approach the conversation in an informed way to find out what kind of help would be most beneficial for them. Sometimes just having an open and honest conversation with someone can make the world of difference to them.
“I’m really proud of the work our team is doing at the moment. We’ve certainly had to adapt, but we’re using everything at our disposal to help people in any way we can.
“We’re here to support people, whether that’s helping with anxiety, sleeping trouble or feelings of isolation. These are all problems which are likely to be heightened just now, so it feels really good to be able to help people and make a positive difference to their lives.”
Underlining the importance of the project at this time, Gina McIntyre, Chief Executive Officer of the SEUPB said: “Through the dedication and understanding displayed by its core team, this EU-funded project is helping many of our most vulnerable and elderly citizens through the current crisis. By adapting their delivery they are ensuring that these groups stay connected with the doctors, and other healthcare professionals, to ensure that they stay physically well.
“Through the use of technology, these groups can retain that vital human contact with friends and family to help combat loneliness; something that it is so very important at this time. I am very proud of their efforts, along with the real and tangible impact they are making upon the lives of so many,” she continued.
The mPower team’s support has also been harnessed to implement other projects rapidly that NHS Western Isles had been developing to assist the response to mental wellbeing during the pandemic by rolling out a range of psychological digital Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) tools.
Martin Malcolm, Head of Public Health Intelligence and Project Lead at NHS Western Isles, said: “We were already working on a number of digital projects that we felt would be helpful for people, but we were able to very quickly deploy these in response to COVID-19 with the support of the mPower Community Navigators.
“This means we’ve been able to offer immediate help to people struggling with a range of mental wellbeing problems while faced with restricted access to traditional psychological services during the pandemic.”
The mPower project is also match-funded by the Departments of Health in Northern Ireland and Ireland as well as the Scottish Government.
For more information, visit https://western-isles.mpowerhealth.eu/