Alistair Clarke, MBE FRSA is chair of Social Enterprise Solutions writes about what it’s like working in a social prescribing project during COVID 19.

“I can’t use a computer. My husband could, but he died last November.”

I’m on the phone to a woman in Blackpool in her 70s and I’m working on a social prescribing project in partnership with a number of GPs’ surgeries. I’m checking on her wellbeing, that she can access food and medication, and in that moment, I sensed how the harsh reality of recently losing a loved one combined with the Covid-19 lockdown had taken this woman from being alone to lonely.

All the talk on television about booking Tesco delivery slots online and Zoom calling friends compounded the loneliness, I can’t do much about that, but I can listen quietly while she chats about something or other.

At the end of the call, she slowly and deliberately says “thank you so much for checking on me” while the feelings in her voice reflected that she was overwhelmed to get the call. Perhaps I made her day.

The next man I call can’t wait to tell me how his daughter gets food from Asda for him, how his medication gets delivered by the chemist and how he’s absolutely fine. I make a noise as if to say well done because I feel he wants praise. I just check to see if he gets anxious or lonely in this highly unusual situation and his mask dropped a little, so we chatted and laughed for a bit.

“God bless you, God bless you for ringing me” he said. I think I might have made his day too.

Blackpool, the sunny seaside resort on the north west coast, has shocking health and social statistics. There are many reasons for that and none of them will change overnight.

Five years ago in a chance meeting with a Blackpool GP, he explained that his patients on depression and anxiety medication often had social problems making their medical situation worse. He’s a GP and his skill is to address their medical situation. If only someone had time to listen to patients with their housing, debt, loneliness, unemployment, row with their mother, seemingly insurmountable life problems and just give them a bit of hope. So I successfully applied for a grant, put an experienced team together and within a few months we were sat in his surgery doing just that.

Fast forward to 2020 and we’ve just secured a large 3-year grant from the National Lottery Community Fund to roll out the project from April 1 2020

We can’t sit in surgeries due to Covid-19 but the team of social prescribers, armed with new mobile phones and aided by a can-do attitude from the GPs to identify people who would benefit from having wellbeing calls, have just completed the first month and made over 1500 much-needed phone calls. 1498 calls involved conversations about Coronation Street.

So we carry on with the phone calls.

My next call (a man in his 50’s) was in a bad way last week. The link worker who spoke to him thought he was struggling so they explored options with him including people he could perhaps speak to on the phone more regularly. He hinted that he was low on food although didn’t want to openly admit it so, just to be on the safe side, we sent £30 of food round to his house (including some treats!) which arrived 3 hours after the call.

He was a lot happier this week. He’d called more people in the last week and even had a Zoom call lined up with some friends tomorrow, and he couldn’t believe we’d sent him some food. He was laughing telling us everything that was in the box we’d sent. I think we might have made his day too.

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