Working together to provide a ‘lifeline’

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, and we thought we’d mark it with a story from one of our Social Prescribing Link Workers, Becky (pictured).

Becky is one of 15 Link Workers employed by Gateway in partnership with SDSmyhealthcare and The North Solihull Collaborative. Each one is attached to a PCN (a group of GP surgeries) and, in ‘normal’ times, would be working from surgeries to provide support to patients at face-to-face appointments. Link Workers are there to help with people’s social, rather than clinical, needs: listening, understanding, and connecting people to community groups and statutory services for practical and emotional support. Currently, all of their support is done over the phone or via video calls.

Last week, Becky told us about Brian*. We thought that the story, although sad, was a reminder that “support” can be as simple as being there for someone, and noticing if they go quiet. It’s also a really good example of the importance of good relationships between our Link Workers, local community groups, and the patient’s GP.

Brian says Social Prescribers have been a ‘lifeline’

By Becky Cuthbert, Social Prescribing Link Worker

More than six weeks into lockdown, and it’s starting to take its toll. We are all feeling it and so are the patients I’ve been supporting.

I had been phoning one patient, Brian, every other day, but one day I just couldn’t get him to answer. This was a cause for concern because during previous conversations Brian had gone into a lot of detail, sharing his mental health struggles over the years, previous suicidal thoughts, chronic anxiety, drug use, insomnia and what he described as his ‘mental breakdowns’. Why wasn’t he picking up, or messaging me? What if he was relapsing?

I phoned a contact from the local art-based social prescribing group who had referred Brian to Gateway’s Social Prescribing service. She had not been able to get hold of him either and had similar concerns. This confirmed that it was time to get in touch with his GP and ask them to do some follow up.

I’m grateful that, of the various practices I work with, Brian belongs to a surgery where the Practice Manager and GPs understand my role and value Social Prescribing’s contribution to holistic care. I emailed the Practice Manager and the Clinical Lead about the safeguarding concerns I had.

The next day I received a reply letting me know that they’d been able to contact Brian. He had apologised for the lack of contact and shared that he had been retreating into himself more and more, telling the GP that my colleague (from the art project) and I have been ‘lifelines’ for him recently.

Brian has decided that he needs more support for his mental health and the GP is now working that through with him.

This shows our system working and joining up to provide a safety net. Most importantly, Brian knows he is cared for and that he hasn’t been forgotten – and that means a lot for his mental health.

Since then, Brian has texted and had a long call with me. He says, ‘you don’t know what it means that you care and that you notice’.

It is wonderful to contribute to a very caring, human network of care. Brian can see that I work closely with other partners and with his GP, and that we have a high level of trust and a shared vision between us: a ‘community of care’. I believe that our patients can perceive this and it all helps convey the important message, ‘you matter’. We are not claiming that a few phone calls are enough to bring full health and wholeness to Brian’s complex mental health issues, but they could have been enough to prevent deterioration, and been the start of him getting more help. Like he said, it’s a ‘lifeline’.

I often say to people that Social Prescribing is simple really, there’s nothing very big or clever about it. It’s about doing small things, but doing them well. It’s a challenge when working from home, but going forward I know I need to continue to invest in my relationships with all the Practices I work with and to spread the vision of the big impact that Social Prescribing can have.

 

*Brian’s name has been changed.

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