I am an Advanced Nurse Practitioner working in primary care. In 2020, during the first national lockdown, I became increasingly frustrated at the lack of any single website where I could go to find social prescribing help for my patients. So I set about building one - called Treacle.
Initially the idea was something small, to solve the problem myself and my colleagues were having, keeping up to date with the fast pace of change as organisations closed and new ones opened as lockdown life kicked in. However, it soon became clear that the problems we were having in the village surgery were the same as those faced by doctors and nurses everywhere. Not to mention social workers, school staff and community organisations. So it became my mission to make Treacle the very best it can be.
Treacle not only supports and encourages a culture of social prescribing in practice, it also makes it fully accessible to our patients. If someone needs to know where their closest walking group is, how to get help caring for a relative with dementia, or where their closest food bank is, they can now find everything they need in one very simple and easy to use site. Treacle is a user-friendly way to introduce the concept of social prescribing in a simple and practical way.
I have had very positive feedback from both clinicians and patients who have been using the site, and have been approached by other areas of the UK, asking when it can be live in their area. This could be done in a cost-effective way in conjunction with the information that is already held in local Social Prescribing teams.
Dogged determination needed
Treacle is set up as a social enterprise and I am applying for funding through grant applications. This is a painful process which has yet to lead to funding, usually because Treacle does not fit within their funding criteria, simply because nothing like it exists.
I have learnt so much in the last year. Setting up a Community Interest Company is not for the faint hearted. But if you believe in what you are trying to achieve, anything is possible. I have managed to trademark the name, set up a Ltd Company, secure funding for a staff member and marketing and even get Treacle added to the local Primary Care Networks referral process. All in my spare time around work, two young children and a global pandemic. A dogged determination and a thick skin are two of the most useful assets needed. My top tip would be to talk about your project to anyone who will listen. It is amazing how much free help and support is out there if people know you are passionate about your project. I have had help with legal issues, marketing and IT support, just from sharing my ideas about Treacle.
This is a success story but one which is far from over. At its launch in July 2020, I thought that my hard work was finished, in reality it had hardly begun. At present, Treacle covers my local PCN area but my ambition is much bigger. I have reviews from some of the 7000 users which show how desperately needed a site like this is.
I honestly believe that given the right backing, Treacle has the potential to change lives, reduce the strain on traditional health services and improve the wellbeing of our population.
Helen O'Connell is an Advanced Nurse Practitioner and founder of Treacle.
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