Many patients visiting their GP surgeries have underlying financial, environmental and social issues that are impacting on their physical and mental health. They therefore may benefit from a non-traditional, holistic approach to address their health problems. The SPLW scheme aims to support and empower patients to take control of their journey to better health and wellbeing by offering non-clinical support, very much focussed on community referral.
Social prescribing is open to patients aged 18+ who present to their GP with issues that have a non – clinical underlying cause. Patients may have a social need, on-going health conditions, regularly attend their GP surgery or are at risk of unplanned admission.
Social Prescribing Link Workers meet patients referred by their GP at their practice before referring and signposting to appropriate services. Patients are treated holistically with the point of referral determined by individual need; this could include information to support health, finance or social isolation.
SPLWs allocate up to one hour with each patient and arrange a follow-up contact to track progress. SPLWs will update GPs on the patient’s progress and referral pathways before discharge.
What is Social Prescribing?
The NHS recognise social prescribing is a key component of the NHS Long Term Plan. It enables local GPs and other local agencies to refer people to Social Prescribing Link Workers (SPLW) within Primary Care Networks (PCNs). Social prescribing is tailored to the individual recognising health is not just physical but emotional and social too.
Southend Association of Voluntary Services (SAVS) hired four SPLWs in Southend. The SPLWs role is to spend time with the individual to address their needs in a holistic way, supporting the individual take greater control of their own health. The SPLW then helps identify and signpost to organisations and activities in Southend. Jessica is one of the SPLWs hired by SAVS in Southend and has shared her experience thus far.
Jessica has a degree in Psychology, with a great interest in the science of the mind and behaviour. She has a large amount of experience working in Southend as an area, giving her a good knowledge of local services that she believes is essential when starting out as a SPLW. She volunteered at ‘Mind’ within their peer support service. Over the course of the 3 years working at Mind she learnt the skills needed to signpost people effectively. Jessica has the privilege to run a Social Prescribing type mental health trainer service. Therefore, when she saw the opportunity to join SAVS as a SPLW she knew this was the perfect role for her. Jessica explained “I love working with people and wanted to return to a people focused / patient centred job role”.
Jessica’s Role as a Link Worker
Jessica works for the West Central PCN. This PCN consists of;
o Dr Sooriakumaran
o Valkyrie Surgery
o Southend Medical Centre
o Dr Bekas
o Dr Malik
o Scott Park Surgery
Jessica started the role on the 3rd March 2020. She had a good two weeks training and then unfortunately due to COVID-19 only had a few day in surgery before she was sent to work from home.
During COVID-19 her role as a SPLWs job role shifted slightly to adapt to the pandemic. Jessica was given a list of vulnerable patients and would call them to see if they needed any help in regards to food, medication, general support. This was a vital service during the pandemic and Jessica was pleased to be a part of this. Jessica explained she can now see a move towards general social prescribing work as we move towards recovery from COVID-19 as the shielding period ends beginning of August.
Jessica has been working in Valkyrie surgery, building relationships within the surgery team. She is starting to build these relationships with colleagues to increase the number of referrals she receives from within her PCN. She has been contacting all patients over the phone, stating “I have had some amazing telephone consultations so I cannot wait to get back to face to face and see how this differs, as I know how important it is the patient feels comfortable. Jessica said “It is important patients feel comfortable, so I enjoy wearing non-uniform as I feel I am approachable in the surgery. When I speak to patients I explain; Social issues can also affect health, so I tell them we are going to assess their needs and look at services together to best support them further”. At the moment Jessica is offering patients up to 6 sessions (1 hour slots) with a follow up call 2 or 3 weeks later. Jessica explained “Other PCNS are seeing majority of the elderly population, however, I am getting a mix of age ranges coming in to see me. Referrals are all currently within the PCN, through our remote booking system”.
Jessica works full time and describes she has been busy during COVID-19, however, now she is shifting her focus back to individuals who have been referred to her, she has some capacity for more referrals to come in. As we recover from COVID-19 Jessica feels SPLWs will be vital in supporting GPs support their patients as SPLWs cans spend longer with the patients supporting them tackle any social or emotional issues.
Jessica, is very keen to support individuals within the West Central PCN, especially in such a vital time where there is a lot of uncertainty and emotional distress due to the pandemic.