Category: Hard to Reach

People who may have significant barriers to accessing services, reluctance to use them.

Edgbaston Early Help Scheme: Food for a family in crisis

Because of the Covid-19 crisis, Birmingham Children’s Partnership has accelerated their plans for “Early Help”, a new model of connected services and communities to help families across the city.

It means that families and children who need emergency help during the crisis can get it in a timely way, from a network that includes schools, health services, the local authority, and voluntary and community organisations.

In the Edgbaston area, the Early Help response is being co-ordinated by Gateway. Programme Co-ordinator Marc has been seconded to lead the project, and is already working closely with schools and children’s centres in the area to provide support for dozens of families.

We have found that even those families who were previously doing well are starting to struggle now, due to the impact the crisis is having on income and health, but the Early Help scheme is designed to make sure schools and children’s centres can refer families in and get them the help they need as soon as possible.

Here, Marc tells us about a family he supported a couple of weeks ago. It’s a fairly typical example of how the scheme works and how the joined-up model is providing urgent essential support.

Food for a family in crisis

By Marc Baggott

Marc Baggott
Marc, who is usually our Straight Talking Peer Education co-ordinator is now leading the Edgbaston Early Help work.

On Wednesday 6th May I had a call from Sarah*, a Designated Safeguarding Lead at a local secondary school, with concerns about a family.

She explained that two of the teenagers she works with are currently living in temporary accommodation with their dad after being made homeless. Their dad Jason* is a single parent and, although he usually works, he had been off sick for three weeks with Covid-19. Because he holds a zero-hours contract, hadn’t been paid for his time off sick, so they had no money coming in.

Sarah had contacted Edgbaston Early Help because she could see Jason was struggling, and was worried the family was low on food.

After speaking to Sarah, I phoned Jason to find out more and we talked in depth about the support he needed. His main concern was their lack of food, but he also highlighted that they were unable to do any cooking at the hotel – although there are some shared cooking facilities, they are dirty, and utensils and equipment go missing.

The first thing I did was to contact St Germain’s Church in Edgbaston, which offers freshly prepared hot dinners on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. It meant that Jason and his children wouldn’t go hungry that evening.

The following day, after some more research, I referred Jason to the Four Dwellings Foodbank; usually it opens on Fridays but because of the bank holiday it was open a day early that week. Jason would be able to visit the foodbank himself that day and pick up food for the whole family.

The lack of cooking facilities at their accommodation was still an issue, though. Even if Jason had food, there was no guarantee they would be able to prepare a meal. So I made an application to the COVID-19 resilience fund for £75, through BVSC, and helped him find a microwave and some tupperware storage containers within his price range.

That afternoon, I received a call from Jason thanking me for all the support he had received. He said that the support really helped him when he was struggling, and that the food and microwave meant that his children could now cook snacks and a lunch when they needed it. He sounded over the moon.

I asked if there was anything else they need, but Jason said they were OK now they had food. I have told him I’ll be back in touch in a few weeks’ time to see how the family are getting on and to check they have access to the things they need.

*Sarah and Jason’s names have been changed.

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.

What a difference a year makes: Social Prescribing Day 2020

Today is the second ever Social Prescribing Day, highlighting the importance and significance of social prescribing within healthcare.

What a difference a year makes

This time last year, we celebrated the first Social Prescribing Day with a story from Healthy Futures. We told how Wellbeing Navigator Ralph had helped Alia and her disabled son to meet new people and put down some roots when they moved from temporary accommodation into social housing.

Healthy Futures was a social prescribing service that we funded ourselves and this was a typical client story, showing just how much a Social Prescribing was needed in Birmingham. However, although Healthy Futures was highly successful from a healthcare perspective — supporting over 200 people with tailored non-medical support, and saving time and money for local GPs — eventually, a lack of external financial support made it unsustainable.

Since last year’s Social Prescribing Day, though, we’re pleased to say that things have changed considerably.

This year, the concept of Social Prescribing is much more widely known and understood.

NHS England have rolled out Social Prescribing services nationally, funding PCNs (Primary Care Networks, which are groups of GP practices) across the country to offer a model that is very similar to Healthy Futures. Many GPs, practice staff and other primary care providers can now refer patients to a Link Worker, who works one-to-one with the patient to offer direct support and signposting.

Now, people in Birmingham like Alia will be able to once again access support from a trusted para-professional, trained to support people with all sorts of social, non-clinical needs. Gateway is working in partnership with SDSmyhealthcare to deliver a Social Prescribing Link Worker service to 11 PCNs across Birmingham and Solihull, and our new Link Workers are already settling into their surgeries.

Gateway Social Prescribing Link Workers

We have a team of 11 Link Workers, all of whom have a wide network of community contacts and experience and knowledge of their local area. You can meet the Link Workers and read more about them here.

Each Social Prescribing Link Worker works from a number of different surgeries throughout the week, offering patients one-to-one, person-centred support.

GPs and Practice staff can refer anyone who needs non-medical help, and the Link Worker will work with that person to help them take control of their own health and wellbeing and increase their active involvement with their local community.

  • People with social rather than medical needs
  • People needing help to access or navigate services
  • People experiencing social isolation or poor mental health
  • People with issues relating to advice, housing or income

“Sure, we can walk with you through a door – but ultimately it is your door.”

Zeshaan is one of Gateway’s new Social Prescribing Link Workers. He works with GP practices in the NSAR Primary Care Network, covering Nechells, Saltley and Alum Rock. Find out more about his role, and how he feels about social prescribing, in this short video.

Meet our MVP Chair: Chloe

In the summer, we welcomed a new Chair for our Maternity Voices Partnership: Chloe Cadby.

The role of Chair is a busy one, and we’re happy to say Chloe has thrown herself into it over the last four months!

Last week, a team from the MVP visited Solihull Maternity Unit to take the “15 Steps” challenge and feed back with their first impressions

The Maternity Voices Partnership is made up of maternity professionals (like midwives and doctors), and service users (women who have been pregnant and given birth and their family members) and it’s Chloe’s job to speak on behalf of services users in these external meetings.

So as well as attending the regular MVP sessions, which are once a quarter, she has also been attending focus groups, quarterly meetings with Bump, meetings with us here at Gateway, and other events like the “15 Steps for Maternity” walks we’ve organised.

As a mum of two children, who each had very different births, Chloe has had experience of the local maternity services herself. She’s also experienced in helping new mums, thanks to her work in Children’s Centres over the last few years. But she’s also very interested in making things better for others, as she tells us here.

“I love anything maternity. A few years ago I started volunteering in my local Children’s Centre and as part of that I’ve done lots of training, including a 12 week breastfeeding course, which means I can give new moms really useful, practical, help.

 

 

“When my baby was about four months old, I found out about the MVP meetings. At first, I wasn’t really sure what it was all about but I went along anyway because it sounded interesting and I could take him along with me.

 

 

“I continued going, and found myself reading up on everything we talked about, and learning more and more. So when the chair position came up, I went for it.

 

 

“I really like the idea of being able to feed back into the system through the MVP. I love hearing people’s birth stories, and at the MVP meetings we don’t just get to talk about our maternity experiences, we can share important opinions with maternity professionals, and they listen. We’re working together to make things better for other women and families.

 

 

“Eventually, I want to go back to work, and I’d love to work in this area if I can, so working with the MVP is a good foot in the door. Having children, you sometimes feel like your brain has gone to mush, but this is helping me to stay challenged and feel like I’m really using my brain. I love listening to others, learning more, reading up on what we talk about at each meeting. It’s a chance to really be me, not just a mom!”

 

Want to get involved?

If you have personal experience of local maternity services, we welcome all “service user” voices and we aim to make all meetings accessible and child-friendly. Call Reshma at Gateway on 0121 456 7820 to find out about the next MVP event.

“I love that it’s giving women a voice!”

Hear from Chloe in her own words in this short video.

Social Prescribing Day banner

Happier, healthier, and housed: Alia’s story

To celebrate the first Social Prescribing Day, we wanted to share a recent story from Healthy Futures, our social prescribing service.

Social Prescribing Day aims to highlight the importance and significance of social prescribing within healthcare. Created by the Social Prescribing Network, a collaboration of doctors, colleges and the NHS, it’s a chance for services like ours to share stories about a way of working that has become a social movement.

In just over two years, our Healthy Futures “Wellbeing Navigators” have worked with over 200 people in Birmingham to support them with social and other non-medical issues. People are usually referred into the service by their GP, and then we work with them to provide a range of tailored interventions.

Those interventions might be as simple as a cup of tea and a chat, or — more often — help applying for the benefits people are entitled to, help bidding for social housing, understanding and filling in forms, calling the utilities to sort out bills, travelling with people to appointments, finding social groups people might enjoy (and going with them, if needed), and signposting to other organisations and agencies. Sometimes, as Alia’s story below illustrates, our staff are the only support workers available to listen at a time of crisis.

How Ralph helped Alia and her son to put down roots

Ralph, Wellbeing Navigator
Ralph, Alia’s Wellbeing Navigator
When Wellbeing Navigator Ralph first met Alia* last summer, she and her young disabled son were living in a homeless centre after moving away from her abusive partner. Socially, they were very isolated, with no local family and few friends. Alia cared for her son 24/7 with very little respite, and told Ralph she was suffering from depression and anxiety.

Alia’s risks were recorded as:

  • unsuitable accommodation
  • social isolation
  • caring responsibilities (disabled son)
  • low wellbeing
  • domestic abuse

Alia told Ralph she was looking for social activities so that she and her son, nearly two, could make some friends – important not just for her, but for her son’s development. And of course, she was keen to move out of the homeless centre. With support from Shelter, she had applied to move into social housing and was waiting for a decision.

Ralph was in the office one evening when he received a frantic call from Alia: her housing application had been rejected. Extremely upset, she hadn’t been able to speak to anyone. They talked and Ralph changed his plans so he could meet her the next day.

The following day, Ralph found Alia feeling very low. He explained that the next step would be to appeal against the decision, then called Shelter to arrange a visit from her support worker for the following week. Worried about her mental and physical health, he asked her to consider going to her GP. When he left, he told the Centre staff his concerns and told Alia that he would be available over the weekend if she needed him. (Later, Alia admitted to Ralph just how ill she’d felt that day, and that she had been considering self-harm, but that his friendly advice encouraged her to seek help.)

Since then, things have started to look up. Alia’s Shelter support worker and their legal team made the appeal against the social housing decision, and Ralph helped to arrange an Occupational Therapy assessment for her son as part of that appeal.

Ralph also found lots of activities for them to get out and meet people. Alia’s son likes animals, so he told them about the local nature centre and farms, which they have since enjoyed visiting. He referred them to their local Children’s Centre, and a support team helped them access free nursery care and activities. Alia’s GP surgery offered her a stress management course which she took up and really enjoyed. And, although Alia had originally refused Home-Start support, she changed her mind and began to receive support from volunteers providing temporary at-home respite.

Three months on, Ralph was overjoyed when Alia called to say the appeal had been successful. Now, they live in their own temporary accommodation. Alia’s making new friends and her son’s doing really well at nursery. They still have a long road ahead, but they’re happier and healthier – thanks to Ralph, Shelter, and her new support networks.

*Alia’s name has been changed

Sharing the realities of teenage pregnancy

Who better to tell young people about the realities of teen pregnancy than a group of young parents who have been through it themselves?

Gateway Straight Talking Peer Educators
Some of our Straight Talking Peer Educators with Co-ordinator Caroline (right)

Gateway’s Peer Educators are young people who became parents as teenagers. They visit groups of children and young people – usually in schools – to raise awareness of child sexual exploitation (CSE), healthy and unhealthy relationships and the realities and implications of early parenthood.

Peer Educators are trained to work with children and young people, and draw on their personal experiences to help pupils understand the emotional, social, and practical implications of becoming a parent. As well as telling their own stories, they get pupils involved with a range of activities, some of which you can hear about in the video below.

Gateway delivers these programmes across the West Midlands in partnership with Straight Talking Peer Education.

Course content

Straight Talking courses have been independently evaluated to be effective in making students listen to, hear and remember our message.

The teenage pregnancy course is hard hitting, covering the responsibilities of parenting and giving an insight into the realities and challenges of life as a young parent.

To work alongside this – in response to DfE statutory guidance “Keeping Children Safe in Education”, and requests from schools – Straight Talking has developed a supplementary programme that covers child sexual exploitation (CSE), grooming, healthy and unhealthy relationships, sexting, relationship abuse and consent.

Watch the video to meet Peer Educators Che, Cherelle, Casey, Natalie and Cherrie, and find out more about their work in schools across the West Midlands.

What do the schools say?

As part of our RSE day […] Straight Talking provided us with sessions on both Teenage Pregnancy and CSE and sexting and the feedback from our staff and students was fantastic. Students talked about how they felt engaged, spoken to with respect and relevance to them and that they loved the fact that teenage mothers were willing to speak to them about their experiences, this made it really ‘real’ for them.

(Claire Kilroy, Deputy Headteacher, Arena Academy, 2018)

Book now for your school

Think your pupils might benefit from some Straight Talking? Gateway’s Peer Educators would love to help. For more information, or to book a course, email Peer Educator Co-ordinator Caroline, or call 0121 456 7820 and ask for Caroline, Jo, or one of the Peer Educators.

Healthy Futures Practice Navigator at work

What’s the future for Healthy Futures?

Unfortunately, we’ve had to stop taking referrals to our social prescribing service Healthy Futures again, leaving dozens of vulnerable people in Birmingham without support. Right now, we simply don’t have the money to continue.

Back in February, we announced that we would be continuing to fund the service using our own savings. At the time, we knew there was a risk we wouldn’t secure external funding before the allocated reserves ran out. Now, sadly, that risk has become a reality. We’ve had to stop taking referrals and our Wellbeing Navigators have spent the last two months winding down people’s support.

How Healthy Futures works

Margaret, Healthy Futures Wellbeing Navigator
Margaret, Healthy Futures Wellbeing Navigator

We have two Healthy Futures outreach workers, or Wellbeing Navigators: Ralph and Margaret, who work with people who’ve been referred by their GP. We work in partnership with SDSMyHealthcare, a consortium of GPs in Birmingham, and receive referrals from them and other organisations in the area.

Ralph, Healthy Futures Wellbeing Navigator
Ralph, Healthy Futures Wellbeing Navigator

Put bluntly, Healthy Futures clients are usually “frequent flyers” at their GP surgery — but it’s not medical help they need, it’s social.

When someone is referred into the service, Ralph or Margaret will go out to visit them and find out what they need.

Issues they support people with include housing (many are in hostels or temporary accommodation), financial hardship (many are entitled to benefits but are not receiving them, or have difficulty managing them), alcohol or substance misuse, and ongoing mental health issues like anxiety and depression. Some just need a bit of direction to help them start forming their own friendships and networks. The support given is practical, emotional and, importantly, builds people’s independence.

Here are some examples of the feedback we’ve had from Healthy Futures clients in just the last six weeks.

Judith* is in her 50s and unemployed:

I feel more positive and less confused about my benefits now, thanks for calling them today for me, and helping to sort it and update things with them. I feel like I have my mojo back. I think walking more is helping me too, and your support.

James* is in his 40s and has seen a few support workers over the years. He said to Ralph:

I have had a few issues and problems with support workers in the past, even still these days, but not with you. You don’t judge me, you listen to me, and I know how much you really want to help me. I can see that you really care.

Laura* is a mum in her 30s. She works full time but she and her child have been living in temporary accommodation:

I will look forward to my appointment with [the outreach worker] at Anawim [women’s centre], thanks so much for referring me to her, and telling me more about the support they provide. I am sure they will be of great help to me, like you. I am feeling upbeat.

Cath* is in her 50s and currently unable to work due to her depression:

Thanks so much, I really do feel the need to move on in my life now to look at volunteering and work, either temporary or otherwise. It’s thanks to you I feel like that. You have been so patient and supportive.

We know there is huge demand for the service; since February we have a steady stream of referrals from GPs.

And we know that the service works: an official study carried out in 2017 found that Healthy Futures is a cost-effective way to reduce the time people spend with their GP (when a social intervention is more appropriate), and significantly increases people’s self-reliance and self-care.

But, despite searching and applying for funding from many sources, we haven’t yet been able to secure any external funding and, unfortunately, we just can’t continue under our own steam.

A country in crisis?

Over the last year we’ve applied for many bids and tenders, and there are more in the pipeline, but haven’t won any funding for Healthy Futures so far. Occasionally we have been pipped to the post by larger organisations or partnerships whose reputation will allow them to reach more people — dare we say, it seems that quantity is sometimes given priority over quality.

We’ve even looked at crowdfunding — asking members of the public to donate — but really, should this be necessary?

Of course we understand that not every service can be funded, but it’s clear that more and more money is being needed across the third sector. Feedback tells us that every social fund we apply for is massively oversubscribed; for example, the Challenge Fund told us they had received more than twice as many applications as they’d been expecting. Building Connections told us they had a £9m budget but if they had funded everyone who applied they would have needed a £191m budget.

It feels like the country is in crisis when it comes to social support. It’s frustrating to watch and, believe us, even more frustrating to experience.

Watch the video

Watch the video below to find out how Margaret recently helped someone who had had to move house because of ill health, but found herself socially isolated in an area she didn’t know.

*names have been changed

holding hands

Loneliness is bad for your health

Tracey Crouch MP
Tracey Crouch MP, Minister for Civil Society and “Minister for Loneliness”.

Did you know that being lonely is actually harmful to physical health?

Studies show that a lack of social relationships is a big health risk1. Researchers have found that it can be as big a mortality risk as smoking fifteen cigarettes a day!

Now, the government has decided that loneliness is a problem worth tackling. In January, Theresa May appointed Tracey Crouch to lead cross-government work on loneliness, to “shine a light on the issue” and “bring an end to the acceptance of loneliness for good”. And in April, this was followed up by the launch of the “Building Connections Fund”, aimed at supporting programmes that “bring people together”.

There’s no doubt that, in this age of austerity, the Minister for Loneliness has a big job on her hands. But we’re very glad that it has become a national talking point.

What are the risk factors for loneliness?

A recent report by the Office for National Statistics gives some food for thought. It identified three profiles of people at particular risk from loneliness:

  • Widowed older homeowners living alone with long-term health conditions.
  • Unmarried, middle-agers with long-term health conditions.
  • Younger renters with little trust and sense of belonging to their area.

Reducing social isolation in Birmingham

At Gateway we support people who fit all three of these profiles, as well as many of the other identifiers mentioned in the report, such as people with financial hardship, and people who don’t feel a connection to their neighbourhood.

Despite a lack of external funding, we are continuing to run the Healthy Futures service, which supports socially isolated people in Birmingham. GPs can refer anyone that needs non-medical help into the service, so that includes people who have issues around housing, alcohol, finances, benefits, and much more. Our Healthy Futures navigators offer a range of one-to-one help, whether that’s a cup of tea and a friendly chat to get through the day, or more complex support that requires a range of specialist help.

And for people with long term health conditions, we help to run a local Patients Health Forum. This group was set up to allow service users to give feedback on local health systems, but over the years it has also grown into quite a social club. So as well as helping with the practicalities, we make sure to really push the social side of things, making sure events are organised regularly and include food, entertainment, and plenty of time for people to chat. Most of the people who go to the Patient Health Forum fit one of the first two profiles mentioned above, and many of the forum members (or, sometimes, their carers) tell us that it provides them with vital social support.

Earlier this month, the Patient Health Forum took place in Stirchley, where we celebrated the 70th Anniversary of the NHS with entertainment from guest singer Reza, who got everyone moving.

At the first International Social Prescribing Research Conference, in June, Key Speaker Dr William Bird explained how loneliness leads to chronic stress which, via its effects on the endocrine and immune systems, enhances risk of long term conditions. He was keen to promote the concept of supporting people to find “greater value” – that is, not just telling them to do standard physical activity, but working with them to find their purpose.

And this is how we work at Gateway, because we can see that it gets results. In the case of Healthy Futures, as we explained in our own poster presentation at the conference:
Healthy Futures did not fall into the trap of “doing what’s best” for patients; generally the patients led the support. Gateway believes that asking someone what their priorities are, believing them, and working with them to build self-confidence and resilience creates a programme of support that is more successful and sustainable.

Connecting people

It’s one thing to find people to say hello to, but it’s quite another to feel “plugged in” – to feel part of something; to feel that you’re useful and that your contribution matters. Having things in common is a great starting point. That’s why we’re keen to make sure that all the services we deliver that involve groups of people – for example Solihull Lighten Up, Peer Educators and the Maternity Voices Partnership – work well as social groups, and we encourage people to stay in touch using WhatsApp or Facebook groups, too.

We’ve known for a long time that social isolation has a big impact on health and we’re very glad this is starting to be addressed at a national level. For our part, we will continue to help people to build stronger bonds with others through a range of tailored support.

References

1Stats taken from the following studies:

  • House JS, Landis KR, Umberson D (1988) Social relationships and health. Science 241: 540–545
  • Holt-Lunstad J, Smith TB, Layton JB (2010) Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review. PLoS Med 7(7): e1000316
  • Holt-Lunstad J, Smith TB, Baker M, Harris T, Stephenson D (2015) Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for mortality: a meta-analytic review. Perspect Psychol Sci. 10(2):227-37

Membership of the Patient Health Forum is open to anyone who lives in South Birmingham, or is registered with a South Birmingham GP, and lives with a long term health condition. If you’d like to get involved, give us a call on 0121 456 7820 and ask about the Patient Health Forum.

Making voices heard: the Maternity Voices Partnership

Since Gateway began in 2006, our tag line has been “Changing Lives, Changing Services”.

To change services, we have to play an influencing and sometimes challenging role, sharing evidence of the need for change. That’s why we have always seen it as part of our responsibility to gather views from service users, ensuring that what they say is heard by decision-makers and other people of influence.

And that’s why we’re delighted to announce that Gateway will be providing Birmingham and Solihull’s Maternity Voices Partnership.

A Maternity Voices Partnership (MVP) is a team of people who work together to review and contribute to the development of their Local Maternity System (LMS). Gateway will be bringing together regular panels of service users (people with experience of maternity services, and their families) and service delivery representatives (like commissioners, midwives and doctors) to ensure that a wide range of voices are heard.

Why Gateway? Well, having run the Pregnancy Outreach Workers Service (POWS) for over a decade, we’re ideally placed to deliver – if you’ll excuse the pun – the Maternity Voices work. We know that there is often a lack of awareness of services in the places where those services are needed the most, so we’re particularly keen to be part of a national programme that wants to build better relationships with hard-to-reach communities, and hear from as many service users, from as many different backgrounds, as possible.

Through POWS, we have already established strong connections within those communities that are known to have a poor take-up of services. We also have strong connections with midwives, Children’s Centres, Social Services, housing providers and other third sector organisations who work with pregnant women – particularly in areas of multiple deprivation. Gateway’s staff are often from these communities themselves, and are experienced in working with and encouraging people who don’t typically come forward.

Gateway’s role will be to form the MVP, finding the right people to be part of it, ensure the quarterly meetings cover topics that are of relevance to service users. Then, we’ll provide the Partnership’s feedback to the LMS Board.

We will soon be advertising for service users to get involved, we’ll be providing training to prepare them for the first meeting in July. If you have recent experience of Birmingham and Solihull’s maternity services, and you’re interested in finding out more, please contact our MVP Co-ordinator Sharon Bartlett at s.bartlett@gatewayfs.org.

This MVP will be part of the new Birmingham and Solihull United Maternity and Newborn Partnership (BUMP), which has been set up as a result of the National Maternity Review (Better Births). We’re very much looking forward to being part of project BUMP, giving as many people as possible a voice, and bringing the ambitions of the National Maternity Review to life.

(The photos on this page were all taken by, or of, our Pregnancy Outreach Workers.)

Taking a risk to invest in people’s Healthy Futures

Recently, we have decided to take a bit of a risk and relaunch a service, despite a lack of external funding. Using our own reserves, we have relaunched Healthy Futures, a programme supporting socially isolated people. In partnership with MyHealthcare, we are now taking referrals from GPs across South Birmingham.

Why? Because we know this service is desperately needed in Birmingham… and we know it works.

We know that Healthy Futures works because we ran a pilot programme in 2016. GPs and surgeries referred people who were socially isolated – for a variety of reasons – and Gateway’s para-professional staff and volunteer befrienders supported them. It was found to be a cost-effective way to reduce the time people spent with their GP (when a social intervention was more appropriate), as well as significantly increasing people’s self-reliance and self-care.

“The care navigation service is estimated to represent a saving in this scenario of approximately £10 per hour”: read how the pilot of Healthy Futures saved time for GPs and money for the NHS, according to official reports.

Importantly, we learned a number of things from the pilot, which means we know what works and what doesn’t. This has allowed us to design and relaunch a streamlined version of the service, despite limited resources.

For example, we were surprised at the age of many of the people we worked with in the pilot – we had been expecting to see a lot of elderly people, but in fact 70% of the people we saw were under 65. As well as people who wanted support to manage long term conditions, we saw a lot of alcohol dependency, anxiety and depression, accommodation issues and financial hardship.

It meant that every person we worked with initially needed intensive support from a para-professional Practice Navigator, rather than lower-level support from a Volunteer Befriender.

So, to start with, all staff working on Healthy Futures are para-professional Wellbeing Navigators. We hope that once the programme has been running for a while – depending on future income – we can introduce volunteer befrienders again, to allow people who no longer need intensive help to continue receiving a phased-down, lower level of support.

And, of course, we are continuing to apply for funding, so we’ve designed the new Healthy Futures in a way that will allow us to build capacity quickly and efficiently once we secure outside investment. With a little help, we could be supporting hundreds of socially isolated people across a wider area in no time.

“Diane was lonely, anxious and at risk”: read how the Healthy Futures pilot programme helped Diane

Healthy Futures was designed, and is being relaunched, in partnership with MyHealthcare. To find out more, or to refer patients into the service, GPs and Practice Managers should call 0121 456 7820 and ask for Healthy Futures.