The COVID-19 lockdown came when we had been in post for only six weeks. Just as we felt we made enough connections and knew what services were available we had to immediately rethink how we could help people.
Social prescribing supports people struggling with loneliness and isolation, money worries, stress, anxiety or depression, or other challenges by connecting them into what’s available in their local community. People’s needs in the current crisis are very immediate and we are having to find creative ways of supporting people at home.
The challenge and the solution
We are speaking over the phone to all people referred to us, having a general chat, helping them access other services and support, coordinating shopping or other help, sharing ideas for virtual activities, or teaching them to use technology. We helped a gentleman who was lonely by arranging for local rugby team, Sale Sharks, to have a rugby chat with him, and we delivered an Easter Egg on Easter Sunday to someone who this small gesture meant the world to.
One of our main challenges is keeping people who don’t have access to the internet, especially older people, connected and stimulated. We are working out the best way to share wellbeing packs with items like jigsaws, crafting equipment, gentle exercise routines, puzzle books and reading material to help keep them busy.
As link workers employed by the Sale PCN, supporting GPs through this crisis (as well as the people they refer) has been our focus. There are a lot of people contacting GPs to discuss things that aren’t medical because they don’t know where else to go. Whilst GPs do their best to help these patients, they can’t do so in isolation. We support people holistically, looking at how they can become happier and healthier without medicine.
We have compiled an information booklet and have also provided morale boosting information with things that may be useful for GP practice staff, from freebies of coffee to YouTube showings of Broadway shows. GP appointments fill up very quickly and if we can support people without a medical condition it means the patients who do need to see a GP will be able to get an appointment more quickly.
Trafford is unique in that it has a number of social prescribing schemes. Greater Manchester Mental Health Foundation Trust (GMMH) commissions a specialist mental health service from BlueSCI, there is a care navigation service supporting people on discharge from Wythenshawe Hospital, and Trafford Council’s Community Link Officer Service supports residents referred to Adult Social Care.
We are finding that supporting people through the current crisis is a real team effort. Across the borough, the NHS, charities, businesses, community groups and the council have all come together. We quickly learnt that if we don’t have the answers to reach out – there has always been someone there ready to point us in the right direction.
COVID hubs in Sale are coordinating the vast number of volunteers and they are amazing at answering urgent pleas for help for medication and food deliveries, dog walking, shopping and more. These volunteers are helping bring our communities closer together and we are creating networks that will last beyond COVID-19, building relationships for the long term. One lady has said that she is so grateful she is determined to overcome her challenges to make a difference to her community – as a way of ‘paying back’ the care and support she has received. We both feel very proud to be part of a community that is so willing to help and care for each other. We have met some truly inspirational people and are looking forward to continuing to help people in Trafford feel connected – we are seeing the huge difference it makes to people’s lives.