We all understand that one role of doctors at a surgery is to prescribe medicine to patients.
But what does a ‘social prescriber’ do?
Liz Rose joined Gillingham Medical Practice last autumn as the surgery’s first ‘social prescriber’ and on Wednesday 21 April addressed Gillingham Town Council’s Annual Assembly to explain her role and set out what she hopes to do with this new position.
‘My job is about connecting people, looking at people in a holistic way and giving them the time, space and opportunity to find out what matters most to them,’ she said. ‘This is often not what they went to the GP for! Social prescribing allows GPs to offer activities and support for people. They just need to know what’s available.’
She told the online meeting on Wednesday: ‘There are many non-clinical ways in which people can be supported. This may be by supporting them to become more physically healthy – by exploring how they might get active such as through walking groups, gardening or by supporting them to reduce their alcohol intake or eating more healthily.
‘Financial problems have a huge impact on people’s well-being and the social prescriber may be able to look at relevant agencies who can help someone with financial concerns and debt,’ Liz added.
‘The significant impact of loneliness and isolation on one’s health is now well recognised and during lockdown this, it had a massive effect on well-being – there is significant evidence to show that loneliness has an impact on increase in heart disease, weakened immune system, depression and anxiety, dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease and death.’
As well as being the medical practice’s social prescriber, Liz Rose is also co-ordinator of Gillingham Community Kindness. This was created at the start of the second lockdown when responsibility for the original group of volunteers who had supported the Gillingham community was handed over to Gillingham Medical Practice.
These volunteers have supported people with shopping, collecting of medication, telephone befriending, gardening, small repairs, reading and just generally ‘being there’. It also helped organise the knitting of a mass blanket on the Town Meadow – Gillingham Commuknitty – for Red Nose Day.
‘Despite many volunteers now returning to work we still have over 80 on our list, 11 new since starting Gillingham Community Kindness and many who are still helping people on a weekly basis; many who are shopping and now able to meet in gardens,’ said Liz.
‘In one week when I sent out an email for a volunteer to help assist a daughter to move furniture to support her 95 year-old mother transfer into a hospital bed I received 15 offers from volunteers! Truly amazing,’ she told the online meeting.
‘This week, just on one day I had volunteers offer to read to a gentleman, to walk with a young lady to the shops and to assist with meds collection and weekly shopping. People are so kind.’
To date, Liz has worked with about 200 people, meeting them face to face but also telephoning to offer regular support as well as find solutions to problems but she wants to do much more. ‘I would like to be more proactive – to reach out to carers, people with high risk of falls and also young carers; support those with mental health difficulties as we gradually come out of lockdown – many people will be feeling anxious and concerned about going out again; offer more support and training to volunteers; be more visible in the community eg Gillingham and Shaftesbury Show, fairs and other events; and develop use of digital technology – health apps are now being widely used to help people manage their own symptoms,’ said Liz.
In his address to the assembly the town’s mayor Councillor Barry Von Clemens praised the ‘great achievement’ of the community’s response to the lockdowns, including Gillingham Community Kindness.
The mayor, who stands down next month, explained that the Annual Town Assembly is an opportunity for the electorate to learn about the activities of the town council over the past civic year and for local groups and organisations to tell the town about their achievements.
Councillor Von Clemens thanked everyone for their work for the town, from councillors and council staff to the volunteers in the many groups in Gillingham.
He concluded: ‘It’s been a joy and a privilege to have been able to represent Gillingham as mayor. This is the most amazing town and community. I will continue in my role as town councillor to help and promote our wonderful town wherever and whenever I can. Thank you Gillingham for your fabulous support and help during my term.’
*To contact Liz Rose, call 01747 859 202 or go to the Facebook page of Gillingham Community Kindness.
In her talk Liz Rose mentioned the example of a woman she had helped in the town. Below is Liz’s account; the woman’s name and some details have been changed to protect her identity. Liz said:
‘Mary is a 78 year old lady who lives alone. She has one son nearby but he has his own difficulties with alcohol and she worries about him. She has one good friend who telephones her.
‘Mental health-wise, Mary has experienced periods of severe depression throughout her life. This culminates in her not caring for herself, neglecting her appearance and home. She has poor self-worth, is often tearful and feels she cannot cope. Her sleep is poor and she has not left
the house during lockdown.
‘Physically, Mary has some pain from arthritis for which she takes pain killers. She also has high blood pressure. She gave up smoking in her 50s and does not drink. Mary worries about her finances as she has been trying to help her son.
‘During lockdown a volunteer supported Mary with her shopping and collecting prescriptions. She had some counselling from Steps to well-being and they asked me to support her too. Mary and I have had lots of telephone conversations as we began to get to know each other and to build rapport and trust. Mary didn’t feel that anything would make her better. This period of engagement was very important.
‘What mattered most to Mary was being able to get out again and to feel less lonely. She did not want to contact via telephone friendship groups and she had no internet so Zoom was not possible.
When allowed, I met Mary at her front door and for the first time in 12 months we walked together to Coffee Companions. Mary was so nervous and it was a huge step. She coped so well. The following week she couldn’t attend as she had a counselling session (via telephone) but we kept in contact and at Mary’s suggestion we arranged to go again.
‘In the course of our conversation Mary told me that she could not read or write and this made her feel less confident as she had always thought of herself as stupid. It was really a big hurdle for her. She had tried help in the past but been too unwell to continue but felt ready to try again. We have contacted Read Easy, they have spoken with Mary and as soon as able Mary is going to recommence sessions with them.
‘Mary is sleeping better, she is more mobile and has been enjoying being in her garden. The pain from her arthritis is less She says she now has hope for the future. We have an appointment with Citizens Advice to help with her finances. She had also walked to the bank and is talking about catching the bus to see her friend.
‘She has been discharged from her therapy sessions.
‘Mary and I keep in contact, she rings me and we are now beginning to look at what other groups she may wish to join.
‘Mary’s smile makes my job worth while.’