Talking to health five professionals from the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, which delivers care to around 340,000 in the capital, William said: “I’m particularly worried as to how the young people are going to cope long term because we’re all muddling through this period at the moment and helping each other.
“But the long term implications – of school being missed, anxiety levels, family members sadly dying and the sort of general economic outlook… Do you think that will play heavily on your services and what they’ll need?”
Consultant psychiatrist Frances Doherty, who runs an inpatient mental health unit for teenagers, replied: “Interestingly in our service in the short term, some of our referral rates have gone down but I would imagine that as we’re starting to come out of lockdown and people are starting to get back into the world again, [we’re] starting to realise just what we’ve been through and we’ll start to see our referral rate increase and the impact on our services.
“What I think has been really helpful is a lot of work has been done to think about how young people can care for themselves, how parents can care for them, to help them to survive and to thrive even…through the pandemic. But I think it’s the other side of it that we’ll have all the challenges that you mentioned.”
Talking to child psychiatrist Dr Clare McKenna, father-of-three William gave a knowing laugh when she said: “The children I work with don’t understand social distancing.”
To laughs from the other five participants – all women – on the call, William said: “That’s all children isn’t it?! I don’t think any children understand social distancing!”
Dr McKenna said some of her staff had come up with innovative ways to put the vulnerable children in their care at ease while they were all wearing masks, gowns and even PPE visors.
Staff had taken pictures of themselves smiling broadly, printed out the photos and then stuck them onto their masks or visors.
Social worker Eimear Hanna, in charge of nine out of ten children’s homes in Belfast, said her staff had bought big teddy bears for the children to hug – as they weren’t allowed to hug carers.
The staff stand beside the bears, so the children can hug a bear by proxy.
She said: “Staff have bought huge teddies so if you want a hug, ‘here you go’, with the staff beside them.
The Duke laughed: “Everyone needs a hug, it’s very important Eimear.”
“They do! They do Sir,” she replied.
At the end of the call, the Duke said: “I would just like to say before I go that I’m hugely grateful for all you’re doing and hope enough people are saying ‘thank you’ and appreciate all the hard work that not only you, but all your team are doing right now.
“I know it’s unprecedented and it’s scary and it’s daunting, but you’re all making a huge difference so please pass on to all your team how grateful everyone is and how appreciative everyone is at what they’re doing at the moment.”
On a separate video call, William also spoke to six social care workers from across the UK to get their perspective, including Karolina Gerlich, Executive Director of the Care Workers Charity, Care worker Sajeed Daji, Cathy Worman who has worked as a care home worker for more than 10 years, live-in carer Rajinder Ajiz, live-in personal assistant Michael Orme and Suraya Alyi who goes into people’s homes to look after them.