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It’ll be lonely this Christmas
I love getting out and about to meet service users and family members and hearing their experiences of homecare however due to the busy and often hectic nature of the job, it is a sad fact that you don’t always get the time to meet people as often as you would like.
However I have had the pleasure of getting to know some of my service users through regular phone contact. I call these people my “telephone friends”. Keeping in touch with this (admittedly small) group of service users is one of the highlights of my week.
It was through talking with one of my telephone friends this week that I had to choke back tears. We have been providing a service to this lady since February this year. My telephone friend has not left the house in 8 years but she loves reading and is currently ensconced in the ‘Complete Works of Sherlock Holmes.’ As a result of our shared love of Sir Arthur Conan Doyles works, she has nicknamed me Watson and I call her Holmes. I really look forward to and enjoy my conversations with Holmes, who possesses a sparkling and quick wit, a happy go lucky nature, and never fails to have me laughing whenever I call.
I rang Holmes up this week to wish her happy Christmas and ask her how her week had been so far. She told me that she is happy this year and looking forward to Christmas for the first time since her husband died. I asked why. Holmes told me that this year was the first year she felt like she had a family and this was all down to “you and your girls”- her homecare workers who visit each day.
The effect her words had on me was extraordinary. They have been ringing in my ears all week. I had never really thought too deeply about her own situation, although she has said before she looks forward to me calling. It was a sharp and timely reminder of the work that is being done each day and the difference our homecare workers can make to ordinary peoples lives. It is a stark reminder that for some of our service users our carers are the only people they will see at all during the week.
There has been a lot in the press recently highlighting this serious issue.
The news from Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt MP was that there is an estimated 800,000 people who are chronically lonely in the UK, stating that this was a “national shame.”
In a recent study undertaken by Age UK, it estimates that some 450,000 older people will be spending Christmas alone.
In Britain today, 10.84m people are aged 65 and over. Age UK surveyed 1117 people, with 17% of respondents confirming that the will be spending the festive season alone. Age UK are reminding people that they are able to provide a befriending service to those who are feeling isolated and lonely and can even arrange home visits.
Also recently in the news has been the launch of Silver Line. In 2011 Esther Rantzen spoke publically about how losing her husband Desmond Wilcox in 2000 affected her, and Esther talked candidly about her feelings of loneliness. Her comments inspired a wave of emotion and public support and Esther received lots of letters from people thanking her for speaking out. After a 12 month pilot and with the financial backing from the Big Lottery Fund and the help of lots of volunteers, Silver Line has been launched nationally.
Over the next twelve months, Silver Line are looking to recruit almost 3250 volunteers to help with their own befriending service to 12,000 older people. Volunteers will receive training and must donate at least 2 hours a week of their time, and are ‘matched’ with a list of people with a day and time to ring them for a chat. The helpline is also open 24 hours a day.
I believe that this type of service is extremely vital and worthwhile and can have the power to make a big difference to someone’s life. Knowing that there is someone you can chat to is hugely important when the only person you may see is the postman.
I have been on Silver Lines website and downloaded their leaflet. This is with the intention of ensuring all my service users receive a copy and are made aware of these types of services that can be available to them if they need them.
It’s good to talk
Having someone to talk to is a basic human need all of us have. To be listened to when you need to ‘sound off’ or to have someone around who can empathise and offer words of encouragement or understanding is a fundamental part of our day to day lives. You would think that given the numerous developments in technology (such as Skpe) and the ways a lot of us use to communicate through social media, you would not assume the problem was on such a large scale. There are 63.7 million of us living in the UK and yet according to Age UK estimates, so many are isolated and alone. How can that be right?
I have always considered myself to be a “busy” person with lots to do each day and various commitments. But my experience with my telephone friend this week has made me realise what is important- and why. In the New Year I will be putting aside some of my weekly tasks that are no longer a priority and volunteering for Silver Line... if they will have me.
I can thank my telephone friend Holmes who has reminded me this week how even the smallest efforts can make a lasting and worthwhile impact on someone who is living alone.