Statement from Eddie Lynch, the Commissioner for Older People for Northern Ireland

“This is an extremely unnerving and challenging time for everyone but specifically our older people who are particularly vulnerable to this virus.  I know there will be many older people and their families who are extremely concerned about the impact of not only the virus but the strict safety measures that are being implemented for older people’s protection.

“There’s no doubt that a prolonged period of isolation will have huge implications, both physical and emotional, for older people and their families.  A move like this will require a wider concerted effort and response across society – we all have a part to play to support our most vulnerable citizens during this worrying time.

“I want to let you know that although our office has closed, all of our staff are now working from home, therefore we anticipate the disruption to our work to be minimal.  I am in regular contact with all relevant Government departments and we will continue to share up-to-date information on our website and social media.

“In the past week I have met with senior public health officials and the Minister for Communities to discuss what help and support can be put in place as a matter of urgency.

“Discussions are taking place to set up a free telephone helpline so there is a trusted place that over 70s, who do not have the help and support of family members, can access information, help and support.

“I will be continually monitoring the response of the government and as always will raise concerns if I believe the action being taken is not adequately protecting and supporting our older people. 

“However, I can’t stress enough how crucial it is that people and organisations pull together to support vulnerable members of their community.  We’ve already seen a number of gestures from retailers who have set specific shopping times for older people which is to be welcomed.  There will be older people who will be wholly relying on the goodness of people in their community and I’m aware of a number of kind gestures being offered on social media, however it’s important to remember that many older people do not have access to social media.

“I would therefore urge you to continue checking on your older relatives, friends, neighbours, help with shopping and supplies if necessary and make sure they know who to call in an emergency.  You can also help to get them connected online if they aren’t already.  I know there are already many of you doing this in your own communities and I want to thank you for that – do not underestimate the positive effect your actions are having on your older friends, neighbours and relatives. 

“I also want to wish all our health workers well in the coming weeks and months ahead.  These people are at the front line in this crisis and we are grateful to them for their ongoing commitment and dedication to caring for those who will be most affected by this pandemic.

“And remember, the best way to protect yourself and others is to help stop spreading the virus – wash your hands with soap and water, or use a sanitiser gel, regularly throughout the day. Catch your cough or sneeze in a tissue, bin it, and wash your hands.

“These are testing times for us all.  We need to work together as a society, be responsible and all do our bit to help us get through this difficult period as best we possible can.”