Social prescribing – link workers, primary care and mobilising communities

Monday 8 July is the first ever national Link Worker Day. Jenny Hartnoll talks about her first-hand experience of setting up a social prescribing link worker programme. Her work is inspired by a passion for helping people build connections.

Are you starting on the journey of setting up a social prescribing service? Thinking about the new link worker roles? Trying to engage more with the community in your primary care network or neighbourhood? I am not going to get bogged down with whether we should use the term social prescribing. Suffice to say, we all understand that it is not just about a GP signposting someone to a group. The moment of social ‘prescribing’ is just the tip of the iceberg.

In 2013 I was employed by our local primary care team to map out which groups and activities already existed in our community; create a website which displayed a menu full of what was available in the community, and work with local people to help fill the gaps. I loved getting out and about talking to people, visiting groups, looking at library notice boards and basically doing lots of detective work. After a year we had a website which covered the whole of Mendip which has a practice population of 115,000 and eleven GP practices. We helped the community set up small self-sustaining groups, such as exercise groups and peer support groups.

We set up our first Talking Cafe when someone said they just wanted to meet people on a regular basis but not under any particular umbrella organisation. The Talking Cafés have become an essential part of our model – a place in the community where people always know they can see one of our health connectors or meet old friends and new. It is a physical place that makes our website come alive.

Having a website to signpost to more groups in the community and a physical place where people could find out about what’s available, soon got me thinking about the people who were asking for one-to-one support. I began seeing people one-to-one in 2014.  At this point I was feeling pretty busy! Juggling the community development, keeping the website up to date, creating links from our website to the GPs’ patient record system, seeing people individually, running the Talking Café… it was then that I created the Community Connector training programme.

Fast forward to 2019. We now have over 1,134 community connectors having more than 22,680 signposting conversations in the community and we have paid one-to-one workers whom we call health connectors – our ‘link workers’. Plus, we have helped set up scores of small support groups; we are embedded in primary care; and our team is at the forefront of changing the conversations in traditionally ‘medical model’ multi-disciplinary team meetings. Community members say they feel proud to be part of what we have all created together – and staff love their work.

In Frome we have been part of a way of working with communities which has reduced hospital admissions across the population. This model is spreading across Mendip, our wider area, with initial stats showing that the trend in hospital admissions is going the same way as Frome.

The journey to date has not been difficult. It has been exciting – full of opportunities and creativity. People often ask where to start. I say: find those who are as excited as you, start working with them, create links and networks and others will soon join you. See everything as an opportunity, notice where there is less energy or none at all and see that as an opportunity to find out more. Do your detective work, listen, be there, find out what is important to people and trust that working in this way will show you your next steps. Be brave, tenacious, curious and have fun. ​

The NHS Long Term Plan committed to recruiting at least 1000 trained social prescribing link workers in primary care networks by April 2021, with more in the following three years, so that at least 900,000 people will be referred to social prescribing by 2023/24.

This is part of NHS England’s Comprehensive Model of Personalised Care.

Summary Guide to Social Prescribing describes what good social prescribing looks like and how social prescribing improves outcomes and experiences for people, their families and carers, as well as achieving more value from the system.

Jenny Hartnoll

Jenny Hartnoll, is Service Lead for Health Connections Mendip.

Twitter: @jennyhartnoll

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One comment

  1. Vicky Sullivan says:

    Fantastic project Jenny. Great to see it getting the exposure and attention it deserves. Vics ?