Social Prescribing in a Time of Social Distancing
By Jane Soothill
Jane Soothill is a social prescribing link worker in Guildford and Waverley and the NALW champion for the South East. In this blog post she reflects on the challenges of creating community connections for people during the coronavirus restrictions.
The job of a social prescribing link worker is rarely straightforward. The people we help are often complex and vulnerable. Their needs don’t fit neatly within sector boundaries. In many ways, coronavirus (and the lockdown enforced to contain it) made our job simpler. Peoples’ needs were reduced to the basics. Have they got food? Can they access their medications? If they live alone, is someone keeping in touch to check on their welfare?
With the easing of lockdown, and a return to some aspects of normal life, people are also returning to their GP surgeries. What is becoming apparent from the subsequent social prescribing referrals is that people are even lonelier, even more isolated, even frailer, and even more anxious than they were before coronavirus. The irony is that just as people need human connection more than ever, the community groups and resources that are the bread and butter of a social prescribing service aren’t there. Some activities have moved into the virtual world but not everyone has had the digital skills to join them.
In the Guildford and Waverley social prescribing service we’ve had to get creative. Volunteer telephone befriending has been a great comfort to many isolated people but it’s not suitable for everyone, especially those with dementia or hearing impairments. Working with colleagues at Voluntary Action South West Surrey, where the social prescribing service is based, we’ve been organising a pen-pal scheme between people in a mental health supported volunteering project and older residents who are isolated at home. We’re recruiting volunteers for a socially distanced ‘walk and talk’ companionship service, and we’re helping to address frailty by participating in a falls prevention video that local residents, currently unable to attend a live session, can watch at home.
“What is becoming apparent from the subsequent social prescribing referrals is that people are even lonelier, even more isolated, even frailer, and even more anxious than they were before coronavirus”
Perhaps the learning I will take away from lockdown though is the extent to which people just want to be acknowledged and listened to. I have heard so many lonely and isolated people say to me things like ‘It’s just comforting to know someone cares’, or ‘It’s good that someone has the time to listen’. As link workers we can’t always fix every problem, and the challenges of COVID make it harder for us to create the human connections people yearn for. We desperately want to connect people to their communities again. It’s what we do. But until then, we’ll be here; to listen and to care.
Jane Soothill- Social Prescribing Link Worker Champion
Jane is National Association of Link Workers Champion for South East of England providing localised leadership and support to Link Workers.