When I started working as a Social Prescriber back in October of last year, I was expecting a busy workload, complex cases and to meet a wide variety of people. I haven’t been disappointed, and just when I thought I was getting to grips with the role, along came COVID- 19 bringing with it even more challenges!
What is a Social Prescriber?
The idea of having a Social Prescriber on site was to take the pressure off the GPs regarding time constraints. This would allow them to concentrate on patients’ health, handing over to me any social problems patients may be experiencing.
Until mid-March I was working within the GP surgery in my own little office. GP’s, nurses and receptionists were referring most of the patients. We installed a large poster in the waiting room advertising the service and the patients themselves are now booking appointments.
Referrals are grouped into categories, such as anxiety and depression, social isolation, housing, benefits, and training and unemployment, but anything goes! During the course of my work I have dealings with many different people. These could be statutory bodies and organisations, family members of patients, and surgery and clinical staff.
Social Prescribing involves signposting to other organisations. Being the link between GPs and patients, and a certain amount of advocacy, as for many of our patients English is not their first language. Some people don’t have the confidence to find services that can help them or sometimes they simply don’t know who to turn to. Just having someone on their side can make them feel so much more able to cope.
Language barriers are mostly solved by the fact that our Social Prescribing Lead for the area runs a voluntary organisation that offers interpreting and befriending. We offer a Healthy Body and Mind course, which has proved very popular during lockdown. There is also an interpreting course for those with a second language. All of which have been carried out on Zoom for the last few months.
The New ‘Normal’
As most of us have discovered, there are pros and cons to working from home. I have missed the face to face contact with patients. I’ve enjoyed not having to start my day so early, but find it’s difficult to switch off at 5.00 p.m on the dot.
I’ve learnt working from home takes self-discipline and that I dislike online meetings, preferring personal interaction.
I have a background in advocacy and enjoy building up a rapport with the patient in order to help them. I love the buzz of a busy surgery; all the staff are really helpful and friendly, and every day is different. But I count myself as one of the lucky ones; I’m still working and staying safe.
A Typical Day
Today I have a patient suffering with his accommodation and a Housing Association that seems reluctant to take his calls. Secondly, a referral to Occupational Therapy is required for a patient whose daughter is worried about her mother’s decreasing mobility.
Next on the agenda are a couple of home visits which are few and far between at the moment. One involves providing documentation for a grant and the other is to gather information from a patient who is not answering the phone. Both visits are carried out using masks, gloves, and strict social distancing!
As I’m catching up with admin for the day; answering e-mails, telephone calls and recording notes, I receive a call regarding a homeless family I’ve been helping. They have run out of food and nappies. A quick call to a couple of the charities set up during COVID-19 still operating in the area and who are willing to deliver to the family solves that problem. Thank goodness for all the volunteers and organisations who have gone above and beyond to help the disadvantaged, shielded and self-isolated during this awful period.
Some days are obviously busier than others and numbers of referrals vary from week to week. I believe we are now starting to see the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. There seems to be a rise in cases relating to anxiety and depression, many of which have been due to social isolation, but lack of housing and unemployment are also big problems at the moment. Whilst every day is challenging and unpredictable, it just takes one successful outcome or one grateful person to make it all worthwhile.