“I can’t use a computer. My husband could, but he died last November.”
I’m working on a social prescribing project in a GP surgery and am on the phone to a woman in Blackpool in her 70s. I’m checking on her wellbeing, that she can access food and medication. In that moment, I sense how the harsh reality of recently losing a loved one combined with the COVID-19 lockdown have taken this woman from being alone to lonely.
All the talk on television about booking Tesco delivery slots online and Zooming friends is compounding her loneliness. I can’t do much about that but I can listen quietly while she chats about her day.
At the end of the call, she slowly and deliberately says “thank you so much for checking on me”. The emotion in her voice reflects 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 check to see if he gets anxious or lonely in this highly unusual situation and his mask drops a little, so we chat and laugh for a bit.
“God bless you, God bless you for ringing me” he says. 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 a Blackpool GP explained to me 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 have been busy on the phones. Armed with new mobile phones and aided by GP’s can-do attitude to identify people who would benefit from having wellbeing calls, they have just completed the first month and made over 1500 much-needed phone calls. So we carry on with the phone calls.
My next call, a man in his 50s, 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. 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. 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.
Alistair Clarke, MBE FRSA, is chair of Social Enterprise Solutions.