A day in the life of a social prescribing link worker
Rachel Studzinski, SPRING Social Prescribing Development Worker with Health in Mind
As part of Elemental’s mission to shine a light on social prescribing and highlight all the great work to that takes place across the forward thinking and inspiring organisations that we work with, our new ‘day in the life of’ feature aims to raise awareness of the people on the ground that are empowering communities and changing lives through social prescribing.
The SPRING social prescribing programme is a community led and holistic approach to wellbeing in the Scottish Borders. My role is to support people to identify what is important to them and how they can make positive changes in their lives to achieve their goals through accessing local services, groups and activities.
No two days are ever the same, and I split my time between working from the different Health in Mind offices in our communities and getting out and about to talk to as many people as possible about social prescribing and how our programme can support a wide range of people working in health and wellbeing.
For example, I have been working with midwives in the area to raise awareness of our programme and its potential to support new mums with some of the challenges they face.
Creating a social prescribing culture
This awareness raising work is really important because I spend a lot of my time trying to track down the right people in the NHS. There is a real communication job to do with social prescribing for anyone trying to reach in and we know that to tackle this need to go out into the community and not wait for people to come to us.
It’s so vital that we have NHS professionals on board to deliver social prescribing to its full potential, and to do that we need to create a new mindset that really understands how the social model can complement and enhance medical models.
The NHS might be the gateway, but it’s all about bridging the gap between statutory and non-statutory services, this is where the success to social prescribing lies and we need to work hard to create this culture.
We are lucky in the Borders that there’s a lot of support for social prescribing in the NHS, but we know that this is not a nationwide experience and I think the sector needs to work to avoid the ‘postcode lottery’ effect where it’s an option available to some but not others.
Working with GP practices
A large part of my work involves working with GP practices as this is the primary route of our referrals to the programme.
We have 13 GP practices signed up at the moment, with two more coming on board in the next few months. Some practices refer more than others, but all referrals come to us through Elemental’s social prescribing platform, which makes it so quick and easy for us.
We receive referrals through the Elemental system directly from the GP in real time, enabling me to respond quickly and set up appointments within a week.
Taking time to assess people's needs
The first step in any social prescribing referral is to go and meet the patient and have an hour to an hour and a half assessment where we look at each area of their life to identify where they want support and what they want to change in their lives. While this part of the assessment is fairly clinical at this stage, it’s important because this is what translates back for statutory services.
Once that is completed, I always add a personal goal in, which can be anything from ‘I would like to feel less isolated’, to ‘I would like to feel more confident’. Then we work together to do a smart goal around that which enables us to find the right social prescribing activity for them.
Once we have an idea of what they are looking for we can start to suggest things that are happening in their areas for them to try. As a link worker I see my role as facilitating what the social prescription might be, but really empowering the individual to choose the activities that work for them, whether that’s learning something new, ice skating, swimming or even sky diving!
Seeing the difference
The most rewarding part of my role is seeing people thrive as they go through the programme.
For example, a lady I have been working with was referred to the programme for weight management after she’d been to different wellbeing teams who thought that they’d done all they could and after assessing her diet, felt that she needed to be referred into exercise classes.
However, through our referral we realised her needs were completely different. Through my initial assessment we identified that she had been diagnosed with arthritis and had a history of depression. She had been prescribed steroids which were causing her to gain weight, which was impacting on her confidence and triggering her depression. This in turn was affecting her relationship with her husband and her son. It was a real cyclical effect that was causing her to feel isolated.
She realised that she needed to change this cycle so together we developed her plan and I was able to look at activities to support her. She felt that she couldn’t go to the gym because of the pain it caused her knees, so I suggested swimming.
Getting a swimming costume was a big deal for her because of her body image challenges and it took us two or three weeks to overcome that, through lots of reassurance and text message conversations, and I was delighted when she text me one day to say she’d got a costume in the brightest colour she could find!
From there, we went swimming together. By the end of the 12 interventions that SPRING offered, she’d reached 76 lengths and was reporting that she’d lost five pounds, had started gardening at home again which she’d previously had to stop because of the pain caused by her arthritis, and found that her relationships were improving.
She was also able to walk longer distances before experiencing pain, particularly when shopping.
For me, this is a shining example of social prescribing in action.
The future of social prescribing
The future is bright for social prescribing and link workers have a pivotal role to play in enabling it to fulfil its potential.
Developing partnerships will continue to be crucial, particularly in the voluntary sector where resources are tight. This is something that we need to continue to focus on, as well as developing that culture change within the NHS, whilst not losing sight of the fact that social prescribing must always be community led to be successful, whatever the pathway.
Volunteering is also an area at SPRING that I am working to develop. I’ve realised that I can’t fit every personality type of people that might be referred to us, and we need to continue to offer people diversity, and so I am currently recruiting volunteers to support this, which is proving a big success.
The more we can raise awareness of the real difference that community led social prescribing initiatives can make, the more lives we’ll be able to change and I’m really excited for what lies ahead for our work.
Rachel Studzinski, Health in Mind, SPRING Social Prescribing Development Worker
Rachel is passionate about equality and supporting social change that drives equality. She is the Health in Mind, Spring Social Prescribing Development Worker in the Scottish Borders. Heer role involves working collaboratively with primary care to offer non-medical interventions to patients.