More than 7,000 British Red Cross volunteers have helped nearly 164,000 people across Scotland amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to new figures.
The charity said the ways their volunteers have assisted include delivering food and medicine to doorsteps, helping with vaccinations and manning a coronavirus support line to support people at their loneliest moments.
It published new data indicating 7,418 volunteers took part in these efforts, assisting 163,782 people during the pandemic to date.
Ahead of Nicola Sturgeon announcing her Programme for Government next week, the Red Cross said its experience helping tens of thousands of people shows the Scottish Government must focus on addressing the challenges of loneliness, rising NHS waiting times and helping the most vulnerable.
It is calling for a focus on “waiting well” for those on hospital waiting lists, with clear, regular communication with patients and more information on coping better at home.
The charity also wants the Scottish Government to invest in toilets and shelters in public spaces to help people build the confidence to reconnect in person safely.
The Red Cross worked with several agencies and groups through coordinating the national volunteering hub, which provided volunteers to vaccine clinics across Scotland.
The charity also helped deliver the Ready Scotland volunteer programme with the Scottish Government and Volunteer Scotland.
They signed up 25,000 people during the pandemic.
The Red Cross and Aviva hardship fund, which provided short term financial help for vulnerable people at risk of destitution, helped a further 2,865 people in Scotland.
The fund, which also received support from the Scottish Government, provided cash for food and toiletries, somewhere safe to sleep, or fuel to keep the lights on, cook or stay warm.
The charity has since set up the the Scottish Crisis Fund with the Scottish Government to support people with no recourse to public funds over the coming year.
Marie Hayes, British Red Cross Scotland director, said: “The last 18 months have, for all of us, been like no other.
“I want to thank everyone for their hard work and kindness during such a difficult time, in particular the dedicated staff and volunteers at the British Red Cross who have helped so many across Scotland.
“As Scotland now moves to the future, we must draw on what we have learned and recover together.
“With the pandemic now leaving a backlog of needs, it is vitally important that we ensure vulnerable groups aren’t left behind.
“We know that the struggles of loneliness have only increased during the pandemic.
“Despite the easing of restrictions, there’s a risk that loneliness will be further entrenched.
“Simple steps like investment in toilets and shelters in public spaces can build confidence.
“Like loneliness, waiting times in the NHS have also been on the rise.
“Part of the solution must be supporting people, practically and emotionally, while they wait.
“We know that waiting well can really improve people’s ability to recover.
“Going forward, these issues must be a priority for the Scottish Government.
“The British Red Cross is ready to work together, as we did during the pandemic, to meet those challenges.”
Issie Inglis, from Carrbridge in the Highlands is one of the volunteers who signed up as she “wanted to do something to help” amid the pandemic.
She delivered personal protective equipment (PPE) to care homes and community locations across the region.
She said: “Delivering PPE is a very small thing, but it can be pretty massive up here in the Highlands.
“The distances are so big, you could be doing eight-hour round trips.”
A woman who is a carer for her husband and daughter was among those to benefit from the deliveries and told Ms Inglis “we don’t know what we’d do without you”.
Ms Inglis also volunteered as a driver for the Red Cross’s ambulance support service, which included taking part in the longest patient transfer the charity has carried out, taking an end-of-life patient from Wick in Caithness more than 700 miles to Plymouth in the south-west of England in November 2020.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Social isolation and loneliness can affect anyone and can have a harmful effect on people’s health and wellbeing.
“That is why we are developing a new five-year plan and we will invest £10 million across this parliament.”