New social treatment to connect patients with community support

1 August 2018

Funding from South Cambridgeshire District Council has enabled GP surgeries to employ a professional to focus on tackling loneliness and other non-medical issues.

The ‘Social Navigator’ has been appointed to link support available in the community to socially isolated residents, and those who need assistance with issues including exercise, diet and anxiety due to financial worries.

The role, which Cambridgeshire County Council’s Innovate and Cultivate Fund is also contributing towards, sees an employee based at Granta Medical Practices, covering surgeries in Sawston and Linton. The aim is to reduce loneliness and the physical and mental health problems it can cause, while also helping to reduce the time spent by local GPs on non-medical issues.

The national Campaign to End Loneliness estimates that between 1,700 and 3,840 people over 65 years old in South Cambridgeshire are lonely.

Kelly Austin, who had already been working in the Sawston Medical Practice for eight years, was appointed to the role earlier this year, and is now seeing patients.

The scheme is designed as a non-clinical link between the surgeries and their communities. Doctors will refer patients on to Kelly to be seen if they believe they are socially isolated, lonely, need more company or are visiting the surgery regularly because they just want someone to talk to. They will also be referred if requiring help with exercise, diet or anxiety.

An easy to understand one-page wellbeing plan is then produced for each patient, giving details of all the local groups that can help them in their communities. These can be walking groups, art and craft groups, social groups, exercise classes or community allotment schemes.

South Cambridgeshire District Council’s Cabinet Member who is responsible for overseeing this scheme, Councillor Hazel Smith, said: “It’s heart-breaking to think that people can become so lonely that the only way they get to have a conversation with another person is by booking an appointment to see a doctor. It’s sad not only for the person, but also puts GPs in a tricky position because we know how stretched they are. This scheme is hugely positive because it will not only help re-connect socially isolated people with other residents and groups near them, but it’ll also contribute to reducing the burden on our hard-working doctors. As a Council we’re determined to improve the health and wellbeing of all South Cambridgeshire residents and this is one way that we’re working to do this.”

South Cambridgeshire District Councillor Henry Batchelor, member for Linton ward, added: “Social isolation, as an issue, is growing in medical recognition, so I fully support the District Council funding this two-year pilot scheme at the Granta Medical Practices and await feedback on the results.”

Social Navigator at the Granta Medical Practices, Kelly Austin, said: “As social navigator for Granta Medical practices it is an honour to be allowed into the lives of our patients to help them access local groups and services in the community. With social isolation and the health problems associated with it coming to the forefront of healthcare, I hope this role with help patients enrich their lives by accessing sources of support in their locality and get more involved and active.

“Social isolation does not only affect the elderly but is apparent across all age groups and it can affect anyone. We have already set up a New Age Kurling session with the support of the Let's Get Moving Cambridgeshire team, and hope to set up many more ventures.”

Cambridgeshire County Council’s Chairman of the Communities and Partnership Committee, Councillor Steve Criswell, said: “It’s always uplifting to see amazing projects like these coming through the Innovate and Cultivate Fund.

“We’re looking for more ground-breaking projects like this GP Social Navigator’ (previously known as ‘Through the Door’) scheme, that make a difference in our communities. I would like to encourage local groups to come forward with ideas and take advantage of our Innovate and Cultivate Fund, where we can help support you on your journey to making a positive impact to improve people’s lives.”

The scheme is being funded as a trial for an initial two-year period. South Cambridgeshire District Council is contributing £17,500 per year towards the project, with Cambridgeshire County Council contributing a further £5,000 per year.