A Christmas loneliness strategy to help older people overcome social isolation during the festivities is being considered by the Scottish Government, MSPs have been told.
Older People and Equalities Minister Christina McKelvie pledged to examine “in detail” plans put forward by the Scottish Conservatives to tackle the impact on mental health of being separated from family and friends during the Covid pandemic.
The Scottish Conservatives have called on ministers to develop a strategy to enable older people to meet up over Christmas safely, after months of coronavirus restrictions.
The proposal was raised at the Scottish Parliament by Alexander Stewart, Tory MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife.
Mr Stewart said many older people were suffering from “extreme loneliness” after months of separation from their family and friends.
He said recent decisions to tighten the anti-Covid measures had been “a real blow” to their “mental health, happiness and hopes”.
“As we approach the festive period we must ensure that processes are in place to support vulnerable individuals,” Mr Stewart said.
“So therefore will the minister back the calls from the Scottish Conservatives for a Christmas isolation strategy?”
Ministers examining Christmas loneliness plan
Ms McKelvie revealed minsters were “considering in detail” the plan Mr Stewart had mentioned.
She added the Scottish Government was due to report in December on its own national strategy on loneliness.
The minister said she recognised the last eight months had been “very difficult” for everyone and particularly hard for the elderly.
The Scottish Government had set up an Age Scotland helpline with £870,000 from a £1.6 million fund to support older people.
Ms McKelvie also said the Scottish Government’s £43m Connecting Scotland programme had been established to keep people in touch and data suggested 40% of those using the service were aged over 60.
Earlier at First Minister’s Questions, Nicola Sturgeon had said the dangers to mental health of elderly people at home, in hospital, or in care homes was “always at the forefront of our minds”.
Decisions on restrictions around care homes have been among the most difficult decisions that have had to be taken through the pandemic.”
Ms Sturgeon was responding to a question from the SNP’s James Dornan, who wanted to know what action was being taken to tackle the problem.
The first minister said: “Decisions on restrictions around care homes have been among the most difficult decisions that have had to be taken through the pandemic.
“The latest care homes visiting guidance recognises the importance of ensuring that older people are able to maintain connections as safely as possible, and it looks to ease restrictions on visiting where it is safe to do so.
“Guidance has also been produced to assist care homes with strategies for promoting the wellbeing of residents and to provide advice on therapeutic interventions to help to manage increased stress and distress for residents resulting from any Covid restrictions.”