More than 1,000 people across Renfrewshire have been helped by a project which issues ‘cultural and social prescriptions’.
The Community Connectors programme also aims to free up GP’s time so they can focus on acute medical conditions.
All 29 GP surgeries in Renfrewshire have signed up to have a ‘social prescriber’ who works with patients for whom medical intervention isn’t necessarily the most appropriate route.
Funded by Renfrewshire’s Health and Social Care Partnership (HSCP), the link workers support people experiencing social and financial struggles, as well as housing issues and loneliness and isolation.
They can be referred on to local social and cultural organisations and programmes to get the targeted support they need and to help them feel part of their community.
The project, a partnership between RAMH, which promotes recovery from mental ill health, Linstone Housing Association and voluntary sector organisation, Active Communities, has helped more than 1,000 people since the pilot scheme was set up in October 2016.
Linstone provide a dedicated service to support the clients with any housing issues, and Active Communities have developed Community Health Champions. They support and motivate people into activities to help them manage their own health and wellbeing and help them with lifestyle changes and building confidence and support networks.
The aim is to carry out an assessment of individual patients needs and connect them to the most appropriate sources of support. Often people are not aware of all that’s available to them in their own communities.
Each three month period sees around 170 new referrals from GPs, which is expected to rise with all GP practices across Renfrewshire now signed up.
Councillor Jacqueline Cameron, Vice Chair of the Renfrewshire Integration Joint Board, the main decision-making body for HSCP, said: “The social prescriptions can be putting someone in touch with a housing advisor, or something as simple as joining a group, putting people in touch with activities and resources that will help enrich and reward their lives.
“Poverty and deprivation are massive factors in people’s health and use of health services, but even in the most affluent communities no one is immune from mental illness or from feeling lonely or isolated.
“People can also feel trapped in an unsuitable house or area. The issues can’t be resolved by medication but can still be a drain on a GP’s time. They are also quite often not necessarily the best person either in these cases, so people don’t get the service they want and their condition doesn’t necessarily improve.
“This is a way of getting people the support they need and freeing up GPs’ time, allowing them to focus on more acute medical conditions.”
One example was where one person visited their GP three times a week simply because they wanted somebody to talk to and the GP would see them because they recognised they needed the emotional support.
Cllr Cameron added “We want to make sure that people are getting the right kind of help and also try and free up GP time where appropriate for other medical treatments. Often in these circumstances, it isn’t necessarily the best use of the GP’s time, especially when the person could be signposted to other services to give them the type of support that would have a much more positive impact.”
“If we can make space and capacity for the GPs it means they can spend more time with more people with complex medical needs.”
Marwyn says Community Connector helped her get back on track
Marwyn Doran was referred to RAMH by her GP two years ago after suffering anxiety.
The 68-year-old from Inchinnan said: “I withdrew myself from everything. Your family don’t know how to help you and you hide it from people because you feel ashamed.
“I don’t tick any boxes because I don’t have any addiction or financial issues and I don’t have any family worries. There wasn’t any real reason for it, it just came. I was at the end of my tether and I was too scared to go out.”
Her GP referred her to link worker Irene Brown from RAMH and Marwyn added: “She got me counselling and then they introduced me to different groups, like a relaxation and walking group.
“I’ve never looked back. We walk round all different places in Paisley and we just walk and talk. It’s great because everybody’s in the same position as you and you don’t feel scared or isolated.
“Ten minutes in the doctor’s surgery isn’t enough. When you’ve had a mental health issue, getting back out into the community is really difficult because you isolate yourself.”
Marwyn is now determined to give something back and actually volunteers herself now.
She said: “I volunteer at walking and swimming groups because I feel they were so beneficial for me.
“I don’t think I would have been able to do it on my own. It’s so important, I think every doctor’s surgery should have a Community Connector.”