NHS partners with tech firm to help families connect with shielded loved ones

The NHS will team up with a global tech firm to help families connect with isolated loved ones, it has been announced.

According to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), social media giant Facebook will provide more than 2,000 of its Portal video calling devices for free to hospitals, care homes and other settings including hospices, in-patient learning disability and autism units.

Portal technology enables families and friends to connect remotely from a small handheld or mounted video and audio calling device.

The move comes after recent research revealed that social distancing measures are having a significant impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing. The study, published by the University of Manchester, found that prolonged periods of isolation are leading to “heightening feelings of anxiety and depression”, while others report “strong feelings of loss”.

These emotions are likely to be exacerbated for vulnerable people shielded from the coronavirus in isolated environments, such as a care home, who have been unable to see family and friends for months.

But NHSX Digital Transformation Director Iain O’Neil said this latest partnership will help society’s most isolated people access “emotional support and companionship” throughout the pandemic.

“Technology companies big and small continue to pledge their resources and expertise to support our NHS and social care system in these unprecedented times,” said Mr O’Neil.

“We are working hard to find and develop services that meet people’s equally unprecedented needs. Technology has never been so important to providing one of life’s most essential things – the ability to communicate with the people we love regardless of where they are.”

Welcoming the news, Vic Rayner, Executive Director, National Care Forum and Care Provider Alliance, said: “We are thrilled to see solutions being offered to Adult Social Care providers that can support residents in care homes to communicate with their loved ones remotely during this COVID-19 outbreak, and are very much looking forward to hearing how these Facebook Portal devices are used and what impact they have during this difficult time.”

The latest figures suggest that around one in four people in the UK experience a mental health problem each year, with the most common illnesses being anxiety and depression.

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