Integrated Plus – how the relationship of social prescribing, the voluntary sector and general practice has made a difference to the people of Dudley

Aiesha TurnerAiesha Turner is a locality link officer for Integrated Plus in Dudley and Netherton. Here she talks about the benefits of having PCNs having social prescribing link workers based in the voluntary sector, and the impact they have been making during the coronavirus pandemic.

Integrated Plus has been working with GP surgeries across Dudley for around six years. We have well established relationships with each surgery in our localities and with our CCG and local authority services. We are in the fortunate position of being employed by Dudley Council for Voluntary Service (DCVS), which means that we are able to tap into charities, groups and community activities well.

When the Covid19 pandemic hit, DCVS worked with the local authority, the CCG and other health/community partners to develop a support service. This was up and running within two weeks, during which time calls from concerned members of the public were fielded and handled.

The service that was set up allows for self-referrals for support from members of the public and also allowed for other agencies to refer into the service. For example, as well as a helpline being set up and our referral form being sent to partner agencies, it was also embedded into EMIS systems at GP surgeries, making it easier for individuals working within GP practices to refer in.

DCVS was able to recruit a dedicated team of local volunteers quickly, who have been assisting vulnerable people with health conditions to obtain food, medication and other essentials. We have also supported people to access food bank where appropriate, befriending and mental health support. The Integrated Plus team has led on weekly virtual meetings with other representatives from health and community services, including colleagues from Public Health, social services, housing, mental health services, domestic abuse charities and more. These meetings have provided a place to discuss complex cases where an individual’s needs cannot be met by what is offer through the Covid19 support service.

DCVS has supported staff to work remotely at home and has heavily focused on staff wellbeing, allowing time off when needed, developing rotas to cover areas of work so that staff avoid burnout, regularly checking in with colleagues and offering resources to support mental resilience.

Since the service has been set up, local volunteers and those receiving help from them have developed strong relationships, which we hope will extend beyond the pandemic. We have also seen a recent decrease in referrals, which demonstrates some stability with the support that is already being provided to people through volunteers.

And as well as running their community social prescribing service, Integrated Plus also manages a High Intensity User service that works with the local hospital to support patients who attend hospital/call 999 frequently for non-medical issues. Two link workers are on this team, and throughout the pandemic they have continued to run the service, providing telephone support to their patients.

So, what advice would Aiesha give to other areas thinking of setting up a social prescribing service?

  • Link in with local umbrella organisations who support groups, charities and volunteers. This helps link workers to tap into an invaluable resource of community support.
  • Develop positive and strong relationships with other services who come into contact with vulnerable groups, such as social services and housing. Collaborative working is good for the people you work with, and also helps to develop resilient initiatives to support more people in your community.

After the first lockdown

In the months since lockdown restrictions eased, Integrated Plus has capitalised on the collaborative working relationships developed during the first wave of the pandemic. They have continued to meet virtually on a monthly basis with their partners involved in the COVID-19 Support Network, including public health, housing services, adult social care, Dudley Integrated Health and Care, Black Country Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and charitable organisations. The continuation of these meetings has been valued by all those involved, as a way to co-ordinate support for the most vulnerable members of their community, and also to keep up to date with local changes in the Dudley borough.

Faced with a second lockdown, Aeisha says: “We hope that as we move into another lockdown and as infection rates increase, we can continue to support efforts to help those in need, who could otherwise slip through the net.

“We have also continued to support patients from Dudley GP surgeries who have been affected by the pandemic. As we move into the darker, winter months where more people will be affected by job loss, housing issues, poverty and isolation, we are dedicated to do what we can to provide a helping hand to vulnerable members of our community.”