Helping people whose health is impacted by debt
With ongoing pressures around the cost of living, many people may be experiencing financial difficulties that, over time, could affect their mental and or even physical health. But social prescribing can play a crucial role in helping people to get the support they need.
The Living Well Team in Norwich is one of many iterations of the social prescribing model. A multi-agency partnership, they are commissioned by Norwich Primary Care Network and led by Norfolk Citizens Advice working together with other local advice partners - Age UK Norwich, Equal Lives, MAP (Mancroft Advice Project) and Shelter (Eastern Region).
This coalition of expertise allows teams to tackle problems, including financial difficulties, from all angles.
As Anna Haggith, one of the Living Well workers, told us: “When we get clients who have massive problems and they don’t know where to start, I remind them that the adage is ‘How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.’ And that first bite is the beginning of everything.”
Living Well Workers like Anna have the time to spend time with people to get to the bottom of their unique financial situation; whether they may be recently unemployed, struggling with historic debt or even facing homelessness. They have an in-depth knowledge of local services and can act as an advocate for the people they work with, directing them to the help or information they need.
Signposting and advocacy can yield excellent results, but most Social Prescribing Link Workers are not qualified to give financial advice themselves. For that reason, GP surgeries serving areas hit worst by the cost of living crisis may find it beneficial to hire a specialist Social Prescribing Advice Link Worker, or to work with partners like the Living Well team in Norwich.
Embedding Advice Link Workers into Primary Care Networks not only provides a proactive approach to health problems that may occur as a result of social problems, it could also take the pressure off clinical healthcare workers, as it has been reported that non-clinical issues take up around one fifth of GP consulting time on average.
Shahanaz Miah, a specially trained Social Prescribing Advice Link Worker at the Bromley-by-Bow Centre, can attest to this. She said: “I worked with one gentleman who had severe anxiety and depression which escalated because of his housing needs…
“He's employed now full time, but he's also managing his health, through all these activities that I've referred him to…. Because I was able to help him with every aspect of his life – social welfare, financial help and mental health referrals – he now feels much more able to cope.”
Primary Care Networks interested in using their Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme funding to hire someone like Shahanaz – or outsourcing to a host organisation – can find out more in this guide, created in partnership with the Money and Pensions Service.
The guide breaks down the key things to think about, including training, insurance, outsourcing and quality control.
Advice workers can make a real difference, to other healthcare staff and to patients, like the person that Shahanaz was able to help. He said, in a note thanking her:
“Thank you for the support you gave me during the darkest time of my life. So many of us get ‘lost’ in the system when we are unwell and I couldn’t have got where I am without your help. We need more people like you and your team!’”