National Association of Link Workers response to universal personalised care

We welcome the universal comprehensive care implementation model as it demonstrates a radical shift from the status quo. Having been co-produced with patients and communities. Finally, the NHS recognises that its role is to facilitate, enable patients and communities (the experts) to come up with solutions to their concerns and to not dictate the solutions. The delivery challenge would be to ensure that this power shift is sustained and continues to be the case. As ever, we are committed to collaborating with partners to support link workers who are the new workforce at the heart of the universal personalised care delivery.

Our link worker members are listening experts’ who help build people’s resilience and capability to take control of their health and wellbeing. They enable people have access to support for their holistic needs and facilitate social inclusiveness by listening to them. This role is highly complex; it requires robust link worker support provision, on the job learning and evidence of continuous professional development. As patients listening experts,  the link worker community of practice expect same; to be listened to, not to be professionally excluded and to be supported in order to help others; this is the reason for our existence as an association.

Link workers are the only workforce across health and social care whose dedicated job is largely to listen to what matters to people. Therefore, if someone is not good at listening to people stories or isn’t approachable, a link worker’s  job will be inappropriate regardless of professional qualifications and accreditations. Here is what a current link worker said

“In order for me to have a good relationship with my client that I am working with they need to feel comfortable talking to me. It makes no difference how skilled I am or how willing the client is to engage, if they don’t feel comfortable working with me, talking to me, or sharing their problems with me then I am not likely to be very successful in keeping them engaged and completing any tasks that have been identified for support”

With the increased interest in the link worker role and the fact that it is not a regulated profession, it is crucial that the essence of the role and social prescribing is preserved; which is a dedicated person to listen to what matters to patients, enabling them have access to their solutions and facilitating social connectedness.  This is the reason the over 1000 new link workers need to join their peers inorder to reduce risk of inconsistencies in professional standards across the country and to be supported .

If social prescribing is designed correctly, it will mainstream joined up care once & for all, which will be good for patients and the health and social care system. Therefore, we would expect local delivery teams to co-produce effective patient pathways to empower link workers so that they are efficient in their role.

We welcome the commitment to increasing link worker capacity. 5 link worker per primary care network is a good start. However, capacity will need to be increased, especially with the various link worker access points including self-referrals. A robust and effective voluntary and community sector infrastructure is also required to enable efficient delivery in order for link worker to hold a minimum case load of 200-250 per year’. Primary care networks ought to be supported to increase link worker capacity based on their local population need and as required; some may require more than 5 link workers to manage 200-250 case load per year. The consequences of inaction regarding increasing link worker capacity would include;

  • The link worker’s job becoming unattractive due to the unmanageable workload and burnout. Some link workers are already suffering burnout. Look after us to look after you.

“I am actually managing caseloads and not just signposting, it can be overwhelming”

  • Lack of patient confidence and poor patient outcomes. Patients resulting to the default; accessing clinical support for non-clinical need due to link worker waiting list. Some areas operate a link worker waitlist.

“I have asked the GP to stop referring patients until I have managed to finish supporting those that have been referred, we need more link workers”

  • Poor patient experience arising from link worker not empowered to have time to listen and to support the person. Here is what a link worker said is important

“the most important thing that I can do is to listen to someone – if I don’t listen there is no point in my link worker role”

Overall, universal personalised care is a welcomed aspiration. It is important that organisations understand how complex and crucial the link worker role is. And therefore, fully commit to supporting link workers so they can be effective in their role. Our link worker success conference coincides with Link worker day on 8th July.

For further comments and questions, please email info@connectlink.org

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