Northamptonshire has become the first in the country to employ a 'social prescriber' role in each GP practice to provide some patients' with emotional and practical support.
The role, which was set up in September, has seen 15 social prescribers start work all over the county taking time to help patients improve their mental health through exercise classes, reduce isolation by taking them to community groups and boost their wellbeing by taking them to allotments.
But it doesn't stop there. Help covers a multitude of things including caring needs, housing or employment issues, sorting out debt problems, filling in forms to losing weight and volunteering.
It comes as Northamptonshire Health and Care Partnership has kickstarted 2020 with a new recruitment campaign to hire more Social Prescribing Link Workers into surgeries, following a successful trial in July 2019.
Emerging evidence suggests that social prescribing can improve peoples health and wellbeing and reduce workload for doctors and nurses who will not have to see patients who do not need clinical treatment.
Taz Shah has been working for the NHS for 13 years in different roles and has a background in nutrition, wellbeing and personal fitness.
She was one of the first social prescribers to join the role four months ago and has undergone an eight-day induction course over three months before going onto work at Moulton Surgery, Woodview Medical Centre, Earls Barton Medical Centre, Penvale Park Medical Centre.
The Chronicle & Echo has asked her what people can expect if they are set to take up the job.
She said: Medical staff identify adults that attend the surgeries too often. These visits often occur because patients are vulnerable, lonely, isolated, and have mild or long term health conditions (including mental health issues) and just need somebody to talk to."
Patients are referred to social prescribers by doctors, nurses and even receptionists but can also self-refer themselves, too.
She added: The benefits are that patients get extra time to focus on what matters to them. This takes the pressure off and reduces 'frequent attendants to the surgery and A&E. It also leads to positive outcomes for the patient such as improving their quality of life and emotional wellbeing, reducing levels of anxiety and depression, increasing physical activity and gaining friendship within a community group. This is great for both patient and medical services.
Taz recently helped a lady who was referred to her by a GP for being on long term sick leave due to stress and anxiety. During the 'holistic assessment', the lady told her that she was working full time in Northampton, managing her own family and travelling to London each evening to care for her isolated and ill elderly mother.
When her mother died she had to deal with her estate.
At the same time there were unexpected deaths in the family. In recent years she had gained a lot of weight, had a mental breakdown and was now off work.
Taz referred the lady to the Activity on Referral Scheme and Weight Management Programme at the local gym. Together they worked out a nutritional plan and Taz supported her in the gym.
Now the lady is back at work with a positive mental attitude. She has lost a stone in weight, is eating healthily, and regained her self-confidence and purpose.
Her relationship with her teenage daughter has transformed and she is attending classes at the gym with her.
Taz said this is a perfect example of what a social prescriber can do for a patient.
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