We’re embracing this renewed focus on partnership working. If we all work together, we can get the people of Manchester the support they need, at whatever stage they need it”
Heather Etheridge, Head of Service at the Be Well Service, Big Life Group, talks about how Manchester’s social prescribing service has adapted to respond to COVID-19.
A lot has changed in a few weeks for us all. Since 23 March 2020, when the lock down was announced by the government, we have all had to make rapid changes, personally and professionally. At Be Well, we have been in the wonderful position of having the skills, experience, networks and practical support to be able to quickly support those most in need.
Our team has had to adapt rapidly to deliver a different kind of social prescribing service for the people of Manchester. Rather than supporting long-term life changes such as coping with depression, getting people back into work and combatting loneliness, social prescribing amid this current crisis is helping people with their more immediate welfare needs right now. For example, we are helping people who face hunger, domestic abuse and financial challenges. However, we are still using all of our tools and skills to do this; connecting people, building relationships, letting people talk about what they need and want right now, just generally being a kind human to the person we are working with.
Where people are coming to us from has also changed. People can be referred to us from the Manchester COVID Response Hub.
We are partnering with the Care Navigation service in Manchester to deliver medication to vulnerable people across the city and we are working with the Manchester City Council Food response team to ensure people don’t go hungry. Our commissioners have agreed that we can accept referrals from any organisation within Manchester, which is a fantastic step forward and has been embraced across the city. In the first full week of lock down we supported 1,101 people across Manchester.
The future of social prescribing
We couldn’t have supported this many people so quickly if we didn’t have such a strong voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector, so we are really passionate about supporting these groups and organisations. How can we work together to ensure that smaller organisations who do some really amazing and crucial work, are able to still get income during this time, and the equipment they need, to deliver their services in a different way? We are supporting MACC to ensure these organisations are used to support people wherever possible.
We have also found new ways of carrying on with business as usual. Just as lock down started, we had 10 primary care network social prescribers (we have called them PCN coaches) due to start in post. They have completed their induction via Zoom and are now ready to work with patients for the primary care networks who outsource to us.
Their role is going to be crucial in enabling GP practices to support the patients who are within the government’s shielded group. They will be contacting each one and offering weekly ongoing help during COVID-19, supported by the wider Be Well Team of coaches and link workers. This extra capacity is essential right now, and, one of the most amazing things that has happened in our city is the way services are pulling together at a much faster pace than usual, without hesitation.
We’re embracing this renewed focus on partnership working – if we all work together, we can get the people of Manchester the support they, whenever they need it, so they can stay home and stay safe.