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The NHS Long Term Plan commitment to recruiting more than 1,000 social prescribing link workers to primary care networks by April 2021 is being supported by a range of resources. As new online learning is launched, an experienced social prescribing practitioner talks about the value of her work and offers some tips to newly appointed link workers:
Being a social prescribing link worker is the best job ever and it’s not just me who thinks so.
I’ve been comparing notes with my colleagues, and looking at the difference we can make to the lives of individuals and to the work of primary care networks.
First, a true story that typifies our work:
A refugee, suffering torture, fled his country. Since arriving he had been referred to mental health services but hadn’t taken up the help he desperately needed.
When he was referred to the social prescribing service, the link worker was able to spend time helping him contact refugee organisations who supported him to apply to the Freedom from Torture charity. He’d tried this before but had been rejected for providing insufficient information. His submission was finally accepted, and the door opened to specialist and appropriate mental health support.
Imagine all the obstacles we faced here: English wasn’t his first language, he’d suffered tremendous psychological trauma, and he had already gone through a series of rejections and disappointments. The time that the link worker was able to spend in building trust means that this man is now well on his way to restoration.
As social prescribing link workers, my colleagues and I know that we can make a transformational difference to people who would otherwise spin constantly through a revolving door in and out of services, benefitting no one.
So, what would we say to link workers joining the new PCNs?
Firstly, enjoy your role and celebrate every positive difference you help to make. Big achievements comprise a number of smaller ones.
Listen actively – hear compassionately. Help each individual write an action plan for way to kinder days. Keep good records.
Build trust – establish relationships. Take the time needed, follow through and feedback to your individuals and to the wider team around them.
Pace it right. Timely motivation steers individuals to their own successes. Know when to step in and when to step back.
Be open-minded – think laterally. Usually, people are stuck because the “obvious” solutions have let them down.
Model perseverance – grow hopefulness. Demonstrate determination and patience, and others will also believe in a better future.
Get connected – problems solving is a team activity. Talk often with your fellow link workers and your colleagues in primary care, local community agencies and in policy teams. Explain your role to everyone.
Don’t be afraid to challenge – you are at the cutting edge of restored lives and communities. Silos, ignorance, obstinacy, busyness and all sorts may lie in the way of the breakthrough an individual needs. You are an advocate and a warrior when needed.
Be safe – lone working is usually fine, but check. Home visits always give valuable insights but if in doubt, take a colleague with you.
Recognise risks. Never assume someone else will make a safeguarding referral. Appreciate that this may be an essential step along the way to wellbeing.
Put your whole self in – keep growing. You’ll learn so much on this journey, especially from the people you’re privileged to serve.
Take time for education – aim for excellence. Check out the resources available on the NHS England website. Share your discoveries with your peers.
And a final example:
Jim suffered from alcohol addictions. He wasn’t engaging with statutory services, and the impact of his so-called ‘coping mechanism’ meant the breakdown of his relationship with his girlfriend and his employer. He felt isolated and insecure financially and with his housing.
Initially he believed change was impossible, and continuously pushed help away. It took several meetings, careful listening, and a non-judgemental approach, before he started to trust that his social prescribing link worker was willing to stay the course and that if he failed, wouldn’t walk away.
When sufficient motivation and courage were mustered, Jim allowed his link worker to refer him onto the local Mind Network, who provided one to one support in a safe environment. He is now engaging with the specialist help he needs, and relationships are being rebuilt.
Jim needed certified time off work, and the link worker also liaised with the GP, so that fit notes could be worded in such a way Jim’s boss also believed there were smoother seas ahead.
Addiction is often accompanied by loss of hope and trust. The social prescribing link worker is able to work across sectors to hold things together around vulnerable people.