Alnwick Medical Group’s social prescribing work began before the pandemic started but is now more important than ever.
Jane Connam, a GP link worker for social prescribing, told a meeting of Alnwick Town Council how it aims to connect people to community groups and statutory services for practical and emotional support.
"We look at whole-person centred care,” she explained, “so that can be supporting patients who are maybe coming to surgery but are experiencing difficulties not necessarily being treated by medication.
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“We’re supporting people in financial hardship, with benefits or housing issues and obviously lots at the moment is about social isolation and trying to connect them where possible to any community projects that are happening online.
"We’ve set up a few online services like a knit and natter group and a book club but we are keen to utilise what is already going on in the community and connect with those things.”
Colleague Anne Shilton added: “There is a whole variety of support we can offer. If there are issues, particularly impacting on their physical health then we can try to help.
"We don’t have a magic bullet, nobody does, but if we can help somewhere along the line and make people’s lives better – preventing some of the visits to the GP – we can signpost them to other places.
"If there are groups restarting or planning to start in Alnwick then please let us know and we can direct our patients to those organisations and activities to help them on their path to well-being.”
People can also now self-refer into the service.
“The service has really developed,” said Jane. “We started social prescribing and then lockdown happened. The town council were amazing at setting up prescriptions and deliveries so a lot of our work to start with was talking to the shielding list and developing a case load from there.
“Now there have been more referrals from patients coming in so it’s working a bit more as it should, not just a response to lockdown and the pandemic but becoming a bit more of an embedded service with a holistic approach.
"It’s not just about a patient going to a doctor and saying ‘these are my ailments, how can you treat me?’, it’s about a conversation about the barriers and things affecting your health and have a community response to that. We are the link between the two.”
Cllr Sue Patience said it was hoped a community allotments project could be an avenue where people could be referred, although there are public liability insurance issues holding that up at the moment.
“It’s a brilliant project,” said Jane. “Lots of GPs are talking about men’s mental health and how that sort of project can really help that patient group connect in an outside space, being involved and getting some fresh air – all so helpful for mental health.”
The extension of the Aln Valley Railway and the Alnwick Greenway, with the possible creation of footpaths on the old railway line, were suggested by Cllr Peter Broom as potential volunteering opportunities.