WHETHER to see a grandchild for the first time, catch up with family, or say hello to a favourite pet, care home residents in Gwent have been embracing digital technology to help maintain precious connections during the coronavirus lockdown.

Scores of residents at more than 50 care homes in the area have been using tablets to speak to family and friends, as part of a Wales-wide scheme which has also helped to enable video medical consultations to be carried out.

Across Wales, almost 750 devices have been distributed to more than 400 care homes in recent weeks, through the Welsh Government's Digital Communities Wales: Digital Confidence, Health and Well-being Programme.

Delivered by the Wales Co-operative Centre, the programme is also providing remote support and training to key workers on how to use and operate the technology with people in their care.

It has meant residents such as those at the Pen-y-Bont Care Home in Abertillery have been able to keep pace with the latest family news via video, a vital link to familiar faces while visiting is suspended.

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For 84-year-old Lillian Morgan (above), that has meant a chance to see a new grandchild for the first time, via a video link from Australia. Fellow Pen-y-Bont resident Bill Ayers, 93, was able to use a tablet too, to catch up with close family while another, 83-year-old Rose Jenkins, was able to say hello to her daughter's dog for the first time since lockdown was introduced.

“Before the loan of the tablets, our older residents were only able to keep in touch with their family and friends through their mobile phone with apps like Messenger and WhatsApp," said Amanda Reed, activity co-ordinator at Pen-y-Bont, who has worked there 10 years and has been amazed with the impact the digital devices have had on residents in such a short period of time.

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Bill Ayers catches up with family news

"Even though this was a great benefit to most of them, some residents with poor eyesight found it too difficult to look at the small screen or didn’t have the latest software to download the apps.

"The loan of these two tablets and additional support from Digital Communities Wales has been a lifeline for the residents and their loved ones, helping them stay better connected during this stressful time.

“We’ve also started to use the tablet devices to come up with new daily activities within the home, looking at old photos of our area and checking out local attractions to visit in the future.

"Last week we used the tablets to celebrate Sir Tom Jones’ 80th birthday. We did a virtual quiz about him and watched his music videos from over the years so we could see how he has changed over time. This type of activity just wouldn’t have been possible before.”


At Millbrook Residential Home in Blackwood, the tablet loan scheme has enabled residents to have video consultations with GP Dr Rizwan Hussain

“Remote video consultations have quickly become a game changer for managing care home patients during the Covid-19 pandemic," he said.

“They have proved invaluable for assessing patients in conjunction with physiological measurements taken in the home, as well as for assessing skin lesions. Video consultations have helped to initiate treatments promptly and reduce hospital admissions.

“I look forward to having three-way conversations with care home patients and their families, who may well be at a different location, in the future.”

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Clockwise from top left: Care home staff at Reene Court in Newpor, Oakdale Manor in Oakdale, Cantref in Abergavenny, and Caerleon House in Caerleon, take delivery of tablets from the Digital Communities Wales programme. Pictures: Wales Co-operative Centre, https://wales.coop/

Wales Co-operative Centre has worked with NHS Wales and TEC (Technology Enabled Care) Cymru on the programme, and chief executive Derek Walker said: “The pace of the digital revolution in health and care has picked up dramatically as a result of this crisis.

"We know from experience that digital skills can transform lives and providing devices is an important part of improving digital inclusion along with good connectivity."

Deputy Health and Social Services Minister Julie Morgan said: “We’ve seen the use of digital technology across the NHS and social care accelerate over the past few months as a result of the pandemic. Many of the changes will be with us for the future allowing people to stay connected and improve access to services.”