Social prescribing empowers people to take control of their health and wellbeing
Social prescribing is an approach for connecting people to non-medical sources of support or resources in the community which are likely to help with the health problems they are experiencing.
There are various models of social prescribing in place across Scotland. Many of these involve a social practitioner, often referred to as a link worker, social prescriber or community navigator, who works with people in a holistic, person-centred approach to link the individual to local resources.
The work may be carried out over a number of sessions so that trusting relationships can be built with the aim of reducing as many barriers as possible to ensure the outcome is successful.
It is important to recognise that people’s health and wellbeing are determined by a range of social, economic and environmental factors, and social prescribing aims to address people’s needs in a holistic way.
GPs do not have the time nor the knowledge to assist with poor housing, financial worries or help someone who is chronically lonely to reconnect with their community.
However, people have a huge amount of trust in their doctor and, when times are hard, they are often the first person people turn to. A referral from a GP to a Community Link Worker (CLW) who can offer social prescribing empowers individuals to take greater control of their own health and wellbeing, which can help to alleviate pressure on state services.
Social prescribing can involve a range of activities that are mostly provided by community and third sector organisations that are in familiar settings to patients. Examples can include peer support groups, housing support, welfare advice, art therapy, befriending, and physical activities.
With ever-growing pressure on primary care services, social prescribing has a vital role to play in easing that pressure, and should be viewed as an integral part of a multi-disciplinary tool box available to primary care colleagues.
From previously having a case load, I have witnessed first-hand the difference taking time to get to know a patient and their story can make. Having someone place their trust in you is an honour and when a patient trusts you enough to agree to try something new for the first time, it gives a great sense of job satisfaction.
A patient I worked with wrote about their experience:
I am retired and returned to the area after a long absence. I privately rented for a few years but this took a toll financially and resulted in rent arrears. I applied for social housing but my situation wasn’t bad enough to give me anything like the points needed for my bids even to be considered and I faced being offered a B&B for a couple of years. I felt trapped – hopeless and helpless. The stress made my mental health much worse and I was seeing my GP regularly as a result.
One day I saw a different doctor at my surgery and they suggested I see their link worker. An appointment was made for us to meet within two weeks of the GP referring me.
The CLW told me she had allocated an hour for our first appointment. I breathed a huge sigh of relief, I knew I was in the right place, in front of someone who just might be able to help.
The CLW listened well and asked all the right questions. Then came suggestions plus actions to back them up. She got me a small grant within a week which was a godsend.
The CLW continued to work on my behalf and give me progress reports. We met up regularly in one of the places she works. The ongoing support and her efforts on my behalf gave me a sense of hope. My mood began to improve because I had her as an active ally.
Sometime later the housing association rang to say I was shortlisted for a flat. I was second on the list but it was looking unlikely the first people it was being offered to would take it. Two weeks later I was told the first people had taken it. My heart plummeted. I was back to square one but at least I still had the CLW. With her help I began to move forward again. Then a call came to say the flat was mine after all. The CLW was again on hand to get me a charitable grant to help me clear rent arrears. She also helped me apply to the Scottish Welfare Fund for furniture.
I’m so glad that my GP introduced us. Everyone who is in difficulty should have a Community Link Worker – or as I prefer to call them a Light Worker. My life changed for the better from the moment I met mine!
CLWs support primary care colleagues by being an additional resource that can encourage patients to take a non-medical approach to their health and wellbeing. By taking a holistic approach to health, multidisciplinary teams can work collaboratively to strive for the best outcome for patients and local communities.
I look forward to taking part in the panel discussion on Day 1 of Holyrood’s Health & Care Festival and discussing link working and its benefits in more detail.
Alison Leitch is a Community Link Worker Assistant Service Manager at Edinburgh Community Link Worker Network
Find out more about Holyrood's Health and Social Care Festival, including how to book your place