Council staff provide friendly face of contact tracing in borough

Published Monday 14 December 2020 at 14:11

“I’ve done quite a few different roles this year, I’ve worked on the help hub, I’ve worked with care homes and then more recently been helping with contact tracing. It’s just about being adaptable and helping where I can.”

So speaks Blackburn with Darwen Council employee Emma Wilkinson who, via various roles, has been one of the many staff members at the forefront of the borough’s response to the coronavirus pandemic this year.

And in her latest role helping with local contact tracing, the 42-year-old from Oswaldtwistle has been one of the key elements of Blackburn with Darwen Council’s partnership with NHS Test and Trace.

Emma and her colleagues, drawn from teams from across the Council, have helped support local people flagged by the national system as having been infected with the virus by providing a relatable local voice offering further guidance, reassurance and signposting to local support services.

Says Emma: “We’re from East Lancashire, we identify with their situation, we’re going through the same restrictions and we’ve got that local knowledge as well. I think it’s a good way of assisting the national service on a local level. We found – with calls coming from a local number too – people were more willing to talk to us.”

Emma has had to learn to adapt quickly to her new role and has picked up the skills required to carry out this vitally important service. During the course of her work she has spoken to a variety of people, including those in hospital, people living alone or those currently isolating without help to offer a variety of support.

She says: “We can offer additional support from the national team like help with getting shopping, links to the help hub or just generally someone to talk to. We can also assist people with claiming any additional payments that they might be entitled to as a result of isolating.

“I’ve spoken to quite a few people in hospital in recent weeks and I’ve not expected them to answer but some of them have actually been really grateful for a friendly person to chat to. I think it’s a bit of reassurance for them as well when they’re struggling and not in the best place.”

And for Emma her passion lies in helping others. She has focussed her efforts on providing as much welfare, support and reassurance to those she speaks to as she can.

She continues: “My main concern is checking that residents are okay, and seeing if they need any assistance. We’re genuinely interested in the person and keen to help them – and us – prevent any further spread of coronavirus locally. We all want the same thing, we’re all working towards the same goal to get all our lives back to normal as soon as possible. I think it’s nice for people to get a call, particularly if they are on their own, just to show that someone does care and there is help there if they need it.

“I think for my own personal development it’s made me more resilient and it has been a positive experience. I’ve learnt lots of new things and met some really lovely people. I think people have been pleasantly surprised that we are ringing genuinely to see how they are and not only to collect facts and figure.”

And when talking about her experiences one particular story sticks out. Emma spoke to a young man whose family became been ill with Covid-19. His mum and dad, aged 61 and 64 respectively, showed symptoms first and, despite practising social distancing at home, he himself started to feel ill a few days later.

She says: “He was poorly, his mum was in intensive care and his dad was at home in bed. It was a difficult situation for him. I just tried to give him as much support as I could, checking that he’d be okay and telling him that support was available through the help hub. He was really grateful for the chat I think.”

Thankfully his mum was eventually discharged from hospital to improve at home but that experience and others has really brought home the gravity of the situation caused by the pandemic to Emma. She continues:

“It’s reinforced to me how serious this all is, especially when I’ve been speaking to those people in hospital or their families. It’s really important that people do continue to take coronavirus seriously and continue following the rules especially over Christmas.”

And does she have a final message to the public?

“Just thank you for picking up the phone to us. We are here to help, it’s not about getting anyone into trouble, it’s genuinely about getting on top of this virus and all pulling together. Also you might be surprised at the additional assistance that we can offer you. We’re all in this together at the end of the day, we’re all residents living through this time. Together we’re stronger and let’s beat this.”

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