Northern Ireland/Ireland: Social Prescribing Link Workers Conference-COVID 19 Experiences, Impact, Issues, and Best Practices

Northern Ireland/Ireland: Social Prescribing Link Workers Conference
COVID 19 Experiences, Impact, Issues and Best Practices

The National Association of Link Workers (NALW) held a virtual conference for Northern Ireland/Ireland Link Workers on the 9th December 2020. This conference was one of 12 virtual conference roadshows held by the NALW virtually across the nation.

The role of social prescribing link workers as key players in the fight against Covid 19 has not only raised the profile of their role but identified that they offer a crucial service that enables health care services to provide a holistic service to the local population.

The speakers held discussions relating to empowerment, SPLW and their role in facilitating access to healthcare, SPLW professional practices, and the wellbeing and resilience of SPLW.

Speakers included:

  • Christiana Melam – Chief Executive, National Association of Link Workers
  • Bronagh Cooper – National Champion, Northern Ireland & Runner Up for Social Prescribing Link Worker of the Year 2020
  • Martin Hayes – Programme Director Integrated Care Partnerships
  • Eithne Foley – Health and Wellbeing Community Referral Link Worker, Cork and Kerry
  • Claire Convery – Social Prescribing Link Worker
  • Oonagh Quigg – Social Prescribing Link Worker at SPRING
  • Ellen Nixon – IMPACT Agewell Project Officer
  • Aiden McCabe – SHSCT MPower Implementation Lead
  • Danny Wilson – Macmillan Community Programme Manager

Key Points:

  • Although the SPLW service is somewhat fragmented, the focus is on recognising that social prescribing is all about person-centred care and access to healthcare.
  • SPLW facilitate the best use of local assets and resources, leading to better health outcomes for people and communities.
  • SPLW are helping to address social care inequalities.
  • Workshops have helped to identify and build the interface with other services, and to provide strategic context for the role of SPLW.
  • Northern Ireland have developed a Regional Social Prescribing Board which examines the role of SPLW and identifies challenges the profession faces.
  • Social prescribing is a growing movement, navigating through a complex healthcare landscape.
  • Eithne Foley shared that her role involved bridging the gap between people and their community. She discussed the extreme difficulties of SPLW working in a pandemic, the lack of resources available, the difficulty of building rapport with patients and the scarcity of referrals when many services were downsizing.
  • Building a strong social media presence helped to raise awareness and build therapeutic relationships online.
  • Technology has facilitated the work of SPLW through the pandemic, and although SPLW have had to quickly upskill and change their working patterns, they have managed to do this successfully.
  • SPLW have been working creatively and innovatively – offering phone calls and texts, socially distanced walks and activity packs.
  • Working with technology has helped the service to adapt to the demands of the pandemic.
  • SPLW working with Macmillan nurses has been successful in terms of working within a diverse and challenging setting, offering signposting services to the nurses as well as the patients.

Technology has facilitated the work of SPLW through the pandemic, and although SPLW have had to quickly upskill and change their working patterns, they have managed to do this successfully. 


  • Continue to develop the evidence base for the work of social prescribing link workers and their impact.
  • To continue to work innovatively during Covid 19 and prepare for life after Covid 19.
  • There is a need to examine funding and frameworks of working to ensure consistency.
  • Local and regional work must continue with a focus on increasing funding and recruitment of SPLW
  • Work towards ensuring funding is continuous.
  • Social prescribing is essentially partnership working between GPs practices and link workers, and the relationship needs to be strengthened over the coming years.
  • To keep looking for, and implementing, new ways of staying connected to patients and to continue to use technology and digital inclusion.
  • Practice consistently and access the NALW’s Code of Practice and CPD.
  • To ensure that groups such as the elderly who are particularly vulnerable, and without access to digital technology, are supported by social prescribing link workers.
  • Continue to engage with the NALW to facilitate support and networking, as well as raising collective awareness of the work SPLW are doing.
  • To evidence financial sustainability as a profession by showing the beneficial health outcomes and financial savings.
  • To build the case for formal recognition of SPLW and qualified status as a profession.
  • Share learning, build a knowledge and resource library, and connect with each other.

To build the case for formal recognition of SPLW and qualified status as a profession. 

Join us on 10th June 2021 for our annual UK virtual roadshow event in Northern Ireland/Ireland

Have comments? Share your thoughts and connect with us on Twitter @nalwuk @NalwNIreland

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How Social Prescribing Link Workers are reducing social inequalities in the response to Covid-19

The NALW showcases the role of SPLW and its importance in reducing social inequality, facilitating access to care, and reducing pressure on NHS services. SPLWs are essential for any COVID-19 recovery plan, particularly as Covid has massively affected marginalised communities. If social inequalities are to be redressed then more SPLWs need to be trained, recruited, and utilised in the fight against inequality. SPLWs provide social, emotional, and practical solutions which ensure that social inequality is minimised.