Today is National Social Prescribing day and to celebrate we’re raising awareness of what Social Prescribing is and how it has supported the residents of Woking throughout the pandemic. To celebrate International Social Prescribing Day today (Thursday 18 March), we touch base with Link Worker Philippa who gives us a snapshot of her typical working day and Surrey residents who have benefited from their local authority's social prescribing service.
"I’m a social prescribing link worker for WISE ONE, a network of GP practices in the borough of Woking. I split my time between five GP surgeries. Occasionally, the person that is referred to me cannot come to the surgery, so then I make a home visit. I try to schedule these visits at the end of the day, or at the beginning.
"Home visits are interesting as you get to see someone in their own environment. I have also met an interesting array of dogs and cats and I’ve learned to become more observant, looking out for unmet practical needs such as grab rails or a half step.
"Talking to clients is only part of the picture. An important part of my day is spent researching organisations that can provide the right support and liaising with colleagues in housing and with other health and social care professionals. Sometimes clients present with substantial and complex needs, or even safeguarding issues, which require a swift referral to the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub.
"Social prescribing works closely with the voluntary, community and faith sector to empower clients to reach a better place in the lives. My role linking clients to the resources that are available in their communities has helped people with housing, debt, mental health, bereavement, disability and more.
"I’ve helped a client receive a garden makeover courtesy of the Good Gym and procured a dog walker for a disabled family through Emmaus Road Charity. With support from Citizens Advice, a disabled client was able to obtain a Blue Badge and I’m currently working on housing support for an older person living in a caravan. I’m also advising a young person with disabilities who is seeking to return to college safely.
"Covid-19 has had a huge impact on my work as a social prescribing link worker. Overnight social prescribing went from helping people to go out and forge new connections with their local community, to assisting them to stay at home safely. This about-turn was facilitated largely by a limited but totally vital range of continuing services which included telephone befriending and telephone counselling as well as various neighbourhood groups who would collect and deliver medicines and shopping.
"Welfare phone calls to the shielding and vulnerable became a regular part of my day. In some cases, I forged a connection with clients whom I had never met. Covid-19 has been a difficult time and has highlighted health inequalities, digital exclusion and isolation. Social prescribing has helped people receive essential help and support.
"In this role I have learnt to celebrate the seemingly little things that make a big difference to someone’s life. As we come out of lockdown, I am so keen to support social prescribing clients on their journeys toward increased wellbeing with the support of the community and all that it has to offer."
Hear from some of Surrey’s residents
When Kate* first saw her social prescribing link worker, she was overweight and described herself as “being stuck in treacle”. She was drinking heavily every night to cope with life and had been signed off work. She wanted to lose weight, cut down her drinking and return to work but had no idea how to get there. She was embarrassed about her appearance, hated exercise and had never owned a pair of trainers.
Through motivational interviewing with her link worker, Kate recalled her childhood love for dance. Kate and her link worker worked together to create a plan for her to achieve her goals. She joined a ladies-only gym that offered gentle dance classes and after a trial at the gym she soon felt part of the community and made friends. Daily dance classes lifted her spirits, helped her lose two stone and she was no longer relying on alcohol to cope. After six weeks of counselling, Kate was able to return to work energised and is now committed to attending regular exercise classes.
Martin’s* GP had concerns about his anxiety and social isolation, so referred him to social prescribing. Martin thought his life could be better if he spent less time at home on his own watching television, so his link worker shared options that were available to him in his community. This included Men in Sheds and a local coffee and chat group.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Martin’s options suddenly shrank. Concerned about his loneliness, his link worker made weekly welfare calls and connected Martin to his local neighbourhood support group. This helped Martin feel much calmer, so he wanted to continue to increase his social contact. Martin visited Surrey’s Virtual Wellbeing Hub and he selected an online coffee morning.
To help his anxiety, Martin’s link worker referred him to a talking therapies service (IAPT) that offered six weeks of free cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) by telephone. He got on well with his therapist and felt it made a difference to his ability to manage. Martin was very grateful for the support he had received during lockdown. He no longer felt alone, and he is now looking forward to getting involved with a new community garden project as soon as the coronavirus restrictions are lifted.
Joan* was referred to social prescribing because she was suffering from anxiety. After a link worker talked her through some options, she was referred to Mind for help with anxiety and she also liked the sound of Getting Together Matters, which offered mindful colouring and connection to pen pals. Joan was keen to take part in activities online but didn’t have digital access.
Getting Together Matters now sends Joan colouring packs, puzzle books and pencils through the post every week and they’ve loaned her a tablet for three months. A volunteer supports her to use it so she can access online activities and feel more connected to people.
Mind has helped Joan with her anxiety and she’s scheduled to take part in a five-week anxiety course. She’s also felt able to take the advice of a pain clinic and go walking every day. She’s pleased with the help she’s received from social prescribing – “I don’t know where I’d be without it”.
What is social prescribing?
Social prescribing is a national initiative that supports medical professionals in dealing with patients’ social needs, whilst improving people’s wellbeing.
Social prescribing supports residents to find non-medial ways to improve their physical health and emotional wellbeing which traditionally can be difficult for medical services to address. Not only can social prescribing assist residents to become more independent and resilient, it can also help with prevention and can act as a catalyst to support long-term solutions to health and social-related conditions.
Through a network of trained Social Prescribing Link Workers, tailored solutions help meet the specific needs of individuals. This often involves accessing a network of services provided by local community and voluntary organisations.
Types of support that can be accessed include:
- Independent living support and advice
- Befriending, counselling, mental and emotional support groups
- Practical help such as cooking, transport and shopping
- Healthy lifestyle advice and physical activity
- Housing, benefits and financial support and advice
- Arts, music, outdoor and creative activities
- Disability support.
Woking Social Prescribing has Link workers covering all GP surgeries in Woking and referrals into the service are via GP appointment or other referral partners e.g. Adult Social Care.
Find out more about social prescribing in Woking by visiting www.woking.gov.uk/living-well
*names changed for confidentiality