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Playing to our strengths

To mark national Occupational Therapy Week, Suzanne Simpson examines how occupational therapists and social prescribing link workers are working together to improve the lives with people with Motor Neurone Disease:

My primary goal as an occupational therapist is to enable people to engage in their chosen activities of daily living, such as self-care, leisure and work.

Activities offer choice and control, and support feelings of self-worth and identity. These are things that bring meaning and purpose to life.

I do this by working with the individual and their community to maximise their ability to participate, or by adapting the activity or the environment to enable participation.

Social prescribing is defined as a way of referring patients with largely socio-economic and psycho-social issues to a link worker, to co-design a plan to improve their health and wellbeing. The link worker can then support the individual to take part in the activities which they have identified, which might include volunteering, accessing educational courses, attending social clubs or joining in with hobby groups.

Social prescribing has seen growing momentum over that last few years and it was announced in the NHS Long Term Plan earlier this year that 1,000 link workers would be employed to provide an additional resource in primary care teams by April 2021.

There is a clear link between the aims of occupational therapy and social prescribing. Both aim to give people choice and control over the way they receive care. What matters to the individual is at the centre of intervention, as well as identifying barriers and building on the strengths of the individual. The role of people, families and communities in ensuring better outcomes is recognised by both. Both aim to facilitate positive changes in health and wellbeing leading to improved quality of life.

At the Walton Centre in Liverpool, we’ve been utilising the community knowledge and skills of link workers and working in partnership with others, to improve how we address the wellbeing needs of the people living with Motor Neurone Disease (MND).

My role has involved establishing what matters to the person living with MND, looking at the barriers and facilitators to wellbeing activities, whilst enabling positive risk taking. A range of activities has been chosen by people living with MND so far, including history and reading groups, art classes and accessible exercise.

Analysis of the person’s needs in relation to the chosen occupations and the environment has been integral to success; examples include transport, access to the building and the availability of appropriate seating.  This has sometimes included receiving help with housing and benefits issues which can often lead to further worry and ill-health.

Occupational therapists are integral to social prescribing if it is to meet the needs of all, especially those with the most complex needs. People with long term conditions are often challenged by their ability to have productive roles in the wider community and people with complex needs often require support in adapting their routines, or environment, to be able to maintain valued occupational roles. With the profession’s focus on enabling participation, occupational therapists are ideally placed to address this.

Recognising the importance of people’s social participation and engagement provides us with a great opportunity for occupational therapists to support social prescribing developments. As experts in occupation, we can enhance the scope of these services and contribute to its success.

Pathways that bring link workers and occupational therapists together should be embedded within services. This way, they can ensure community services draw from the experience and knowledge of occupational therapists, giving link workers an opportunity to learn from us too.

By working together, we can help people, and especially those with the most complex needs, feel that they have choice and control, and support feelings of self-worth and identity.

For further information, see:

Suzanne Simpson

Suzanne Simpson qualified as an occupational therapist in 2004 from Salford University having completed a Psychology degree at the University of Central Lancashire prior to this, and completed an MRes at Edge Hill University in 2018.

She has worked predominantly in neurosciences for the past eleven years in a variety of settings.

Suzanne is employed by The Walton Centre a Neuro Specialist Hospital based in Liverpool, in a unique role funded by the MND Association aimed at improving the psychological wellbeing of people living with MND.

She splits her time between this role, acting as the trust lead for Making Every Contact Count and carrying out her research.

Suzanne was a finalist at the 2018 North West Coast Research and Innovation Awards in the category ‘Research Student of the Year’ and was recently awarded an NHS R & D North West HEE/NIHR Pre-Doctoral Bridging Scheme.

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