Opinion Piece: ALONE call on Government to immediately begin planning for older and vulnerable groups return to society post-COVID

by Seán Moynihan, CEO ALONE

Since the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in Ireland, older people have had to largely withdraw from society, with many postponing important and vital medical check-ups and appointments in order to protect themselves from the virus.

Opinion Piece: ALONE call on Government to immediately begin planning for older and vulnerable groups return to society post-COVID
Repro Free: Monday 11th January 2016. Picture Jason Clarke

In ALONE, our network of staff and volunteers across the country have continued our work supporting older people to age at home. To add to these services we launched the National Support Line in March 2020, in collaboration with the Department of Health and the HSE, for older people struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time we have received more than 42,000 calls to the helpline and made more than 138,589 phone calls to older people who need support. Over 70% of the older people who have called our support line are living alone.

Older people still have a huge challenge ahead of them in the weeks and months to come. The current COVID-19 Resilience and Recovery plan, ‘The Path Ahead’ contains no clear guidelines for older people, and there are still to be questions to be answered as to what further vaccination and easing of restrictions will entail for older people and the supports that will be available to them throughout this time.

So many services for older people have been closed, so much home care has been stopped, so many community organisations for older people are not active, so much confidence has been lost. Life will not return to normal and the community will not recover without significant effort; like the economy, it is going to need care and attention to return to pre-COVID levels.

As over-70s are the third group to be vaccinated in Ireland’s National Vaccination Programme, we believe it is imperative to establish a long-term re-emergence and community-building programme as soon as possible, in order to facilitate the re-emergence of older people and socially and medically vulnerable groups into our society.

We are calling on Government to begin working on this strategy immediately, as we know these things take time to implement and bring about change, and it would be easy to just move on and leave older people to their own devices.

We believe that community groups and services for older people are integral to a successful re-emergence as these will offer older people vital support within their community. It is therefore imperative that these services are encouraged to resume.

In addition to this, we are also urgently requesting the establishment of a stakeholder group for Older Adults in order to assist in developing the re-emergence programme and to protect vulnerable individuals and groups in society, while also recognising the growing number of older people who are now part of this cohort due to COVID-19 restrictions and implications.

This group will ideally be composed of representatives from Civil Society, Healthcare, Age Organisations, supportive groups for Vulnerable Adults and relevant Government Departments, and will work continually to establish a plan around a re-emergence programme for older people and those within socially and medically vulnerable groups as we navigate through the next part of our journey with COVID-19 while providing a space to address emerging issues.

It is vital that Government ensure the appropriate immediate supports are in place for older people as they begin to return to society, and take tangible action on the long-term issues impacting older people further highlighted by COVID-19. Older people, and particularly those who are socially and medically vulnerable, have been among those groups who have struggled and sacrificed the most as a result of the outbreak of COVID-19 so it is essential that they are supported throughout the pandemic and in its aftermath.

Contact ALONE if you have concerns about your own wellbeing, or the wellbeing of an older person you know. Their National Support Line is available seven days a week from 8am – 8pm on 0818 222 024. Further information can be found onwww.alone.ie.

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