Self care is for life (not just for COVID)

This week we celebrate the annual Self Care Week and the theme for this year is  ‘Self Care for Life’. 

The need to look after our mental and physical health has never seemed more important.  And yet at the same time, many of the usual ways that we look after our health and wellbeing are not available, particularly this month –  whether that’s having a meal or a cup of tea with friends, going to the gym or even just getting out of our immediate neighbourhood and exploring somewhere new.

The way that the NHS supports people with long term conditions has also needed to adapt, with face to face contact much more difficult to do.

Not long after I developed type 1 diabetes just over 10 years ago, I went on a course with other people with type 1 diabetes. Learning about carbohydrate counting and matching insulin to food and exercise made a big difference to my confidence and to my quality of life, as I was learning to live with a new condition.

It’s great, then, to see that courses like this are being delivered remotely so that people can still benefit from the opportunity to learn about their condition alongside others in the same situation – even if it is from behind a screen.

Peer support has become even more important and many people with long term conditions, including people who were shielding over the summer, have given up their time to provide support for others in both formal and informal ways.

At a recent meeting of the Personalised Care Group Supported Self – Management Group, one of the members talked powerfully about her experience of running a support network for other young people with kidney disease whilst also dealing with her own experience of shielding and the impact this was having on her perception of herself.  This is just one of many examples of the ways that people with lived experience have helped and supported each other during this time.

Within primary care, social prescribing link workers play a vital role in supporting people whose physical and mental health cannot be improved by medicine alone: people affected by non-clinical issues such as loneliness, practical issues such as housing or debt, or by juggling the demands of their everyday life.

By simply spending time with people, link workers find out what matters to them and support them to join local community groups and relevant advice services. During the height of the pandemic much of this support has been provided remotely, but the link workers have continued to offer practical and emotional connection.

And from April 2020, primary care networks (PCNs) have also been able to recruit to two further personalised care roles: health and wellbeing coaches, and care coordinators.

Health and wellbeing coaches will work with people to discover what’s important to them, whether it’s finding strategies for coping with with daily pain, developing their confidence to start exercising again or identifying ways to manage anxiety.

Care coordinators will help people who need a bit more support, either because they are living with frailty or because they have a number of long-term conditions that bring them into regular contact with health care.  They will help people to navigate health services and get the best out of clinical appointments, and will also work with them to help develop a personalised care and support plan.

It’s fantastic that the numbers of people in all three of these roles are set to grow further over the coming months, laying strong foundations for the impact that personalised care can make in supporting people to look after their health and wellbeing way beyond the immediate context of Covid-19.

While the virus has brought the importance of support for self-management to the fore, its relevance will continue and not diminish in value even after the current crisis is over.

Judith Hendley

Judith Hendley became Head of Supported Self-Management at NHS England and NHS Improvement in April 2020, which is part of NHS Personalised Care.  She was previously Head of Patient Safety Policy for the same organisation.  Immediately prior to joining the NHS centrally, Judith worked in health and social care policy for London local government supporting initiatives to help local government and the NHS work more closely together.