Festive rise in calls for help

Shaun LowthorpeHundreds more people have endured a bleak Christmas this year as social workers and the Samaritans reported a surge in calls from vulnerable groups needing help.Shaun Lowthorpe

Hundreds more people have endured a bleak Christmas this year as social workers and the Samaritans reported a surge in calls from vulnerable groups needing help.

Norfolk County Council is drafting in extra specialist social workers over the New Year period after a sharp rise in the numbers of people seeking support.

Teams answered 388 calls between December 23 and yesterday while volunteers at the Samaritans in Norwich had more than 100 people ringing for support on both Christmas Day and Boxing Day - far busier than usual.

It is still unclear what has prompted the sharp increase, but there is speculation that the cold weather may have played a part amid a 60pc rise in the numbers of falls, while the Samaritans said concerns ranged from people feeling suicidal to those having relationship difficulties.

Volunteers had also noticed more calls from people with money worries in the run up to the Christmas period.

County Hall said it has responded to calls on a variety of issues from people of all ages, including children.

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Teams had also carried out emergency mental health assessments, and assisted older people who had been taken ill or had a fall. They had also helped arranged urgent placements in residential homes and requests for community care from friends and relatives of elderly or vulnerable people desperately in need of respite care.

The Swifts and Night Owls - specially trained support workers - are on hand to answer urgent calls from older people in their own homes for those who do not need, or do not want to trouble, the emergency services.

David Harwood, cabinet member for adult social services, praised the teams for the job they had done so far, but also urged people to keep an extra eye on their neighbours and relatives.

'For those in need this service is very important, we have a system that's doing a great job and we are trying to expand that,' Mr Harwood said. 'It acts as a good prevention, but you can't cover everybody and that neighbour effect is very helpful. Sometimes all it takes is a call to a GP or health worker for people to be checked to see if they are ok.'

He said while the Swifts and Night Owls system had been piloted in Norwich and North East Norfolk, he hoped a way could be found to expand the system across the county by working with the voluntary sector.

'We are trying to move that forward and that's something we are trying to build on,' he added.

Lorna Bright, county manager for Norfolk Care Connect, said the team was planning to bring in an extra five staff over the New Year period - meaning that there would be 12 people on duty.

'This year has proved to be another extremely busy Christmas period for our emergency duty team,' she said. 'As usual we have drafted in additional staff to ensure we are able to offer first class help and care to those who require it during the holidays.'

A spokeswoman for Norwich Samaritans, said more than 100 people had rung in on both Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

'Normally Christmas Day is quite quiet for us because people tend to with others and it starts to pick up around now, but it's definitely been busier,' she said. 'Obviously Christmas can be a difficult time for people who are bereaved or on their own, and it can be a fraught time for families where the strain is starting to show.

'One thing we are finding in the last few months is that we are getting a lot more calls from people with financial worries.'