Why the volunteer social prescribing workforce matters and should be supported: view from a volunteer link worker

How it started:
Our Social Prescribing and Wellbeing Project was set up at the GP surgery as a pilot project, about 18months ago, in response to an identified need. This need came about because a relatively new service, at the time, provided by a Community Navigator was becoming inundated and overloaded with requests from GPs across the city to signpost patients, who presented with non-medical issues, to services for support with a range of social or emotional (i.e. non-medical) needs.
The presentation to the Patient Participation Group (PPG) resulted in an interested group of volunteers being trained by the local CVS/Community Navigator team and then some of those volunteers taking the project forward with the surgery’s support.

Our impact:
• As volunteer link workers, we support the (18000 +patients) surgery by spending more time with patients who have non-medical issues but don’t know where else to go. Patients appreciate the time we give them
• For complex cases we can escalate to the Community Navigator
Support we received
• We received initial training which focused more on active listening and protective behaviours a couple of us spent time at the local CAB.
• The surgery is very appreciative of what we are trying to do and we have a proactive GP and Practice Manager who are keen that we should succeed.
• We have been invited to surgery meetings to give feedback and they would like us to have our photos on the board alongside other staff members to show the patients who we are.

How we work:
• Clinics are held on 2 half days per week so that a consulting room is always available
• We have devised a closed group scheduling system on Yammer
• We have produced a small referral pad which each of the GPs, Nurses and Receptionists can use to give to a patient to take to reception to book an appointment. This also acts as a reminder to the GPs of the service available by the volunteers.
• By developing strong links with the surgery, we have a secure email account that allows us to share referral forms back to the surgery to update patients records
• We have refined our IT trails so that we have as much face to face time with the patient as possible
• We are proactive in gathering leaflets, learning on the hoof, drawing on our backgrounds and general knowledge.

The issues have been:
Recruiting and keeping volunteers
• Finding a system for scheduling the rota
• Designing a system/paper & electronic trail that works for all parties
• Having a manageable IT system for recording actions and follow ups
• Having a dedicated space within the surgery to see patients
• Getting sufficient referrals from the GPs
• Lack of funding
Training for volunteers/ new recruits
• Knowing what 3rd party services are currently available
• Getting volunteers’ faces known around the surgery

Written by our member Angela Bettridge (volunteer link worker) The Maltings Surgery, St Albans in Hertfordshire.

Join us if you are interested in ending link worker professional isolation and would like a single point of access for empowering and supporting the social prescribing workforce inorder to help increase positive wellbeing outcomes for themselves, individuals and communities.

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