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At the heart of general practice since 1960

How a community adviser could help your practice

Letter from Allison Palmer, community adviser at Bassetlaw Community and Voluntary Service (BCVS)

So many of patients’ problems can be dealt with by non-clinical support services, but there are so many services out there, GPs can’t possibly know them in any detail. That’s where I come in – a community adviser to point patients towards non-clinical services that can help them.

This initiative began with Bassetlaw Health website, developed by Dr Steve Kell, when he was chair of NHS Bassetlaw CCG. The website launched in 2013 in collaboration with Bassetlaw Community and Voluntary Service (BCVS), funded by the CCG to provide a comprehensive local directory of services available to professionals and patients, to complement their existing medical treatment, reduce loneliness and isolation.

The site has over 3,000 visitors a month and provides in depth information from over 1,000 services covering the full breadth of healthcare and social economic support available.

Earlier this year two practices in the area were selected to test the ‘primary care home model’ which aims to provide a single integrated and multidisciplinary team to provide comprehensive care for patients from their GP practice. One practice brought me (the partnership officer for BCVS) in to help patients who wouldn’t have access to the website, or the capability to access digital information, to signpost them to local services.

What I do

My role helps patients to:

  • Identify, during an informal face-to-face appointment, groups in the local area which may offer additional support, advice and information to help them understand and manage their own medical condition
  • Access local community support groups by giving names, contacts and specific information about local groups and services, including meeting times and venues which can often be a barrier for patients
  • Access benefits, debt and welfare rights advice through specialist groups and organisations in the local area
  • Address loneliness and isolation issues through a social prescribing service
  • Access services for carers to support them in their caring role as well as encouraging them to look after their own health

While the initial arrangement was for the community adviser to be located at a GP practice one day a week, this has now expanded to include access to support by telephone five days a week between 9 and 5 and via email. A small number of patients have chosen to access the support in this way as opposed to a face-to-face appointment.

The feedback from patients has been excellent and in particular from patients who find it easier to talk about issues rather than visit a website or to pick up the phone. 

Success

While it is still early days to evaluate the success of this initiative, it is evident that partnership working is beneficial to both patients and staff in terms of understanding, navigating and accessing the wealth of support services available to compliment the ‘traditional’ medical options.  

The model was praised in a recent CQC visit which rated the practice as ’Outstanding’ and working in partnership with others is a key part of the vision of the practice going forward.  Our joint priorites are staff wellbeing, patient outcomes and efficiency, and it is great to see the voluntary sector as a key partner in the model.

One patient put it well, saying: 'I went to my appointment with the community advisor in total despair and overwhelmed with stress. I left with a positive attitude about the future and a solution focussed view about my situation.’

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