An update from Orkney

I’m still here in the COVID Community Support Hub with my pool view, although it’s not the pool I was expecting, I was to have been in Bucharest by now. However, it could be worse and for many people it certainly is. At the time of writing more people in Scotland are dying in care homes than anywhere else. Thankfully, our care homes in Orkney have been spared this tragedy to date, but many of the carers I work with are understandably worried. Social distancing in care homes is not only difficult it can be distressing for families, staff and most of all the residents themselves. If an elderly person’s source of comfort is a hug, a dance or just holding someone’s hand, how do you take that away? How do people with Dementia make sense of a world filled with masks and visors when their world may already be a confusing and distressing place. My heart goes out to families who are unable to see their loved ones and to carers who are worried about catching and spreading this terrible virus, either to their much cared for clients or own families at home. I don’t envy these carers the difficult times they are facing, both in residential and homecare, but I do respect them and the very difficult job they do.

But back to my job. I haven’t seen my clients for weeks now, I phone and chat but it’s not ‘eyes on’. I check in with homecare and health services who are still doing the job day in and day out, they let me know how things are and if they have concerns. I know that families will also pick up the phone to tell me if they are worried. Most of my clients have Community Care Alarm enabling them to call for assistance if needed. In a rural area where your nearest neighbour can be miles away it’s a vital technological service that nearly eight hundred people in Orkney use.

Technology has certainly come to the fore in the last couple of months, but the wave of technological connections seen all over the daily news can’t help me connect with my clients. Most of my clients don’t have or use any form of internet communication, I can’t Skype them or meet them on Teams like my children and family’s colleagues are doing with some of their clients. The speed of internet connection in Orkney can be very poor in some places as can the mobile signal. This can hinder many of the Social Workers who are now working from home, as can the lack of technology.Until recently Social Workers in my area have not had access to remote or mobile working, I only latterly gained access to emails on my work mobile. There has been a great effort made by our IT department to facilitate secure mobile working and ensure workers can follow the government’s edict to work from home. However, it has so far not been possible to get the necessary database remotely for most social workers, so office-based working remains a necessity. I get the opportunity to link into meetings on Teams and I find that people are getting more comfortable talking to screens and the new etiquette involved to ensure we can all hear and be heard (I have also learned to change my background so it looks like I’m at the beach, ahh Bucharest I will be with you some day). I believe this leap forward in our use of internet communications can only be beneficial to workers in remote and rural areas.

I am responsible for several smaller islands in Orkney which I visit by plane or boat. This can prove difficult at the best of times with poor weather and time constraints, but due to the virus I am unable to visit unless there are protection issue. Having the ability to remote work from and to the outer islands will greatly improve my effectiveness, so I hope this is one change that continues long after the virus has left us. However, I am always mindful that there are pros and cons with everything. I want screens and technology to be another tool to help me do my job, not replace my job. Technology can never take the place of face-to-face assessments and real human connections, nor should it. I’m sure I speak for my colleagues when I say we are missing those direct meaningful connections with our clients. I hope there will be provisions for our older and vulnerable people to have safe contact and emotional support in the ‘new normal’ being talked about in the media. But like most people I don’t know how that will look.

The Scottish Government has announced that people will be permitted to exercise outside more than once. I’m sure this will be welcomed by many people, not least those whose mental health or relationships have been suffering through the lock-down. This combined with the fact that we have had about four weeks of beautiful sunny weather will hopefully lift people’s spirits. Good weather is not a given in Orkney where the rain is often horizontal!

Orkney has been in the news recently, once for the tourist and cruise ship revenue lost due to COVID and secondly as a proposed test area for lifting the lockdown. The latter has divided opinion, if the local radio station and social media are any judge. There are some people who feel that ‘only’ 7 confirmed cases mean that we are in a better position to lift lockdown than other places. Others feel that ‘only’ 7 confirmed cases mean that we have no immunity at all to the virus. To me the virus feels like a spider sitting in the middle of a web whose threads radiate out connecting us all.

Skye has also been in the news this week with the very sad news that they have lost people in Home Farm Care home to the virus. From one small island to another, you are in our thoughts.

2 thoughts on “An update from Orkney”

  1. Thanks very much Gillian for a great blog. You paint a very clear picture of the realities of social work in Orkney at this time. I’m sure your comments about the benefits and risks of technology will resonate with many : )

    1. Gillian Ritch

      Thanks Emma,
      Tech can be such a brilliant tool for Social Workers, but there is no substitute for real face-to-face contact.

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