This blog from Christiana Melam, CEO of the National Association of Link Workers sets out a compelling argument for recognising the role of social prescribing link workers in responding to the COVID pandemic.  If you are interested in finding out more about the organisation and how they support link workers join @nalwuk #LinkWorkerChat on 5th May, 6-7pm to learn more or contribute to discussions.

Coronavirus (Covid19) pandemic validates the role of Social Prescribing Link Workers

Covid19 brought into limelight why we need Social Prescribing Link Workers and how essential their role is.  National Association of Link Worker’s members have reported increased workload, as GPs, nurses, and the entire healthcare system increasingly utilise them to support their patients’ welfare needs. There is currently no cure for Covid19 so we are compelled to rely on own personal resilience and self-management strategies to cope with its impact. Our members have reported, increased patient demand, appreciation, and understanding of need for their role.

The role of a Social Prescribing Link Worker is underpinned by the social model of health. The pandemic has validated Social Prescribing social model of health as a core part of primary care, that complements the medical model.

Why we need Social Prescribing Link Workers during and post the Covid19 pandemic?

Human beings are social beings and need human interaction, so when we are asked to practice social distancing and to self- isolate at home, this can be challenging.

A recent paper in the Lancet Psychiatry highlighted how the pandemic could have a profound impact on people’s mental health.

One of the paper’s authors Professor Rory O’Connor from the University of Glasgow said: ‘Increased social isolation, loneliness, health anxiety, stress, and an economic downturn are a perfect storm to harm people’s mental health and wellbeing.’

A WHO briefing highlights: ‘To be told that you are very vulnerable can be extremely frightening and very fear-inducing. The psychological impacts for these populations can include anxiety and feeling stressed or angry. And some older people may already be socially isolated and experiencing loneliness which can worsen mental health.’

What Social Prescribing Link Workers do

Social Prescribing Link Workers support people to identify the social determinants of health that matter the most to them and then enable them to overcome their biggest barriers and providing access to the right support/coping strategies. This enables people to become resilient and capable of taking control of their health and wellbeing which reduces inappropriate reliant on health services for non-medical issues.

They act as the glue between health, social and community services.

How Social Prescribing Link Workers are supporting Covid19 response efforts

Link Workers are supporting in the following ways:

  • Conducting welfare and follow up review calls
  • Facilitating medication delivery/pick up with pharmacists
  • Facilitating community support via local Covid19 response hub, NHS volunteers and other community support
  • Helping people navigate the menu of support that meets their needs
  • Acting as the link for other support available to patients
  • Supporting people to utilise digital platforms to stay connected
  • Ensuring people have access to the right information, support and guidance to self manage

Post Covid19 period would also be a time when Social Prescribing Link Workers would be crucial to help restore the nation’s mental and social wellbeing.

Mainstreaming Social Prescribing as an alternate care model

Covid19 has validated the role of social prescribing link workers and the need to mainstream social prescribing as a core part of the healthcare system. WHO defines health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.

There is an urgent need to build patients and communities capability and resilience to take control of their mental and social wellbeing through Link Workers. Mainstreaming social prescribing across health and social care is an enabler. Doing so will also help reduce inappropriate reliance on health services for non-medical issues.

Join @nalwuk #LinkWorkerChat on 5th May, 6-7pm to learn more or contribute to discussions.