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Two social prescribing link workers appointed to work with the GP practices in Rossendale

Two social prescribing link workers, Deborah Dewhurst and Shahan Lais, have been appointed by Burnley, Pendle and Rossendale Council for Voluntary Service (BPR CVS) to work in the Rossendale Primary Care Networks (PCNs) and support GP practices in Rossendale.

PCNs are groups of practices that work together with community, mental health, social care, pharmacy, hospital and voluntary services in their local areas. They build on the core of current primary care services and enable greater provision of proactive, personalised, coordinated and more integrated health and social care. There are two PCNs in Rossendale – Rossendale East which covers the Whitworth, Bacup and Waterfoot GP practices, and Rossendale West which covers the Rawtenstall and Haslingden GP practices.

For a number of years across East Lancashire there has been a very well established social prescribing scheme funded by NHS East Lancashire Clinical Commissioning Group (via the CVS). Social prescribing (sometimes called Community Referral) is a method of teaming people with mild to moderate health problems up with non-medical sources of support available within their community. These support services, often provided by the voluntary and community sector, can include everything from debt counselling, support groups and walking clubs, to community cooking classes and one-to-one peer mentoring.

The main goal of social prescribing is to promote better patient outcomes, whether that is reduced heart disease, better management of diabetes, or improved mental health. In addition, it is also important to reduce the demand on NHS services, such as inappropriate GP appointments and unnecessary referrals into secondary care (hospitals).

The two Rossendale social prescribing link workers are part of a team within the CVS working alongside the two Rossendale Community Connectors, who collectively support the whole social prescribing agenda for Rossendale. The full remit of social prescribing activity extends beyond providing direct support to those patients referred to the social prescribing link workers and Community Connectors, but also involves encouraging local community groups to be part of the small grants application process, which is also administered by BPR CVS. This emphasises that their roles are supporting both individuals and local groups across the borough of Rossendale.

The social prescribing link workers give people time, focusing on ‘what matters to me’ and taking a holistic approach to people’s health and wellbeing. They provide the connections between the GP and community services that can support residents to address their wider health and care needs whether this is for practical or emotional support. They have played a key role during the COVID-19 crisis, and being uniquely placed to provide crucial support to our most vulnerable and at risk communities during the recovery, have been at the forefront of the response to the pandemic.

For example, the following comment from a recent referral during the recent lockdown highlights the positive work that the social prescribing link workers are making - “Thank you, you provide an amazing service, I cannot thank you enough. You can only start to imagine how I was feeling. Now things are good again.” This was from a lady who cares for her elderly mother with the help of carers. Unfortunately because the service was temporarily suspended the added stress of the caring role was impacting on her own health and wellbeing. As both mum and daughter were shielding, she was feeling lonely and isolated. However with the help of the social prescribing link worker, she was soon engaging in online activities and groups, as well as weekly telephone calls from a local volunteer who she is now very good friends with.

Deborah Dewhurst is based within Rossendale East PCN and covers Irwell Medical Practice, Whitworth Medical Practice, Waterfoot Medical Practice and Fairmore Medical Practice. Deborah comes from a background of social prescribing as a Community Connector having gained a wealth of knowledge and experience and established very successful links with the wider community groups.

She said: “During my twelve years of working within Community Mental Health, I specialised in working with Dual Diagnosis patients in the alcohol and drug use field, individuals on the Autistic Spectrum, learning difficulty and additional needs. I am confident in building therapeutic relationships, leading to enablement and empowerment, whereby the individual can take ownership of their health and wellbeing. I am excited about putting all these skills into practice for the community of Rossendale.”

Shahan Lais is based with Rossendale West PCN working with Dr Mackenzie & Partners, Ilex View Medical Practice, Rossendale Valley Medical Practice, St James Medical Centre and The Surgery in Haslingden. Shahan has previously worked as a Public Health Specialist in the NHS for 18 years. His areas of expertise are health inequalities, population health, epidemiology and community engagement, alongside being a volunteer in Rossendale working with young people and the wider community on initiatives to create cohesion and advance well-being and health.

He said: “As evidenced, the social prescribing agenda can make a difference in the lives of vulnerable people and communities and, alongside my colleague Debbie, I am excited to be part of this journey.”

Claire Downes, Advanced Nurse Practitioner at Irwell Medical Practice and Lead Nurse for Rossendale East PCN, said: “I am absolutely delighted that we have managed to recruit Deborah and Shahan. The impact of the pandemic has definitely been a challenge for us all and has changed the way we work in primary care. Self-isolation, shielding and social distancing created an enormous challenge within general practice for supporting the most vulnerable and elderly members of the community.

“I have every confidence that Deborah and Shahan will continue to make a huge difference supporting individuals to take better control of their health and wellbeing.”