An elderly lady walking slowly across the Town Meadow pauses as Liz Rose stops to chat with her. Kindness and positivity radiate from Liz who is Gillingham’s first social prescriber and has been in the post since October. There’s a brief conversation before Liz joins me. The lady walks on with a smile beneath her mask, Liz’s words clearly making a difference to her day.
Social prescribing is a relatively new concept to the NHS but one that is increasingly important as the country recovers from the lockdown and Covid-19 pandemic. Around 30 per cent of GP appointments are made for non-medical reasons and frequently turn out to be for other issues such as financial problems or loneliness. A social prescriber like Liz connects people to others and to support services. They are based with GP surgeries but work in the community and in partnership with support groups. Instead of a medical prescription, you could find yourself introduced to the coffee companions or the forthcoming Gill Sheds. Liz is a trained mental health nurse and has lived in Gillingham all her life. “I saw the job advertised and went for it. I like people, I’m nosey, and I love Gillingham- it’s a great community.”
Liz outlined some of the cases she had dealt with that day which gave a good insight into her role. A lady recently discharged from hospital after a road accident was unable to walk her dog. By making a phone call, Liz was able to find a volunteer willing to take the job on which gave peace of mind to the dog owner. She also helped support another resident who was experiencing severe mental health problems. Liz was also honoured when she was recently invited to the home of some local Syrian refugees that had been helped to settle into the town. She also helped bring people together with knitted squares on the Town Meadow and the biggest knitted blanket in Dorset. As Liz said: “The job is as big as you want it to be.”
One of Liz’s main roles is to connect people who may be feeling isolated in the community. On Tuesdays the Coffee Companions meet up. There is always someone there to say hello and make people feel welcome. The Green Gang work with people of all abilities to plant tree, clear paths, and renovate signs. Gill Sheds is coming to Gillingham soon and there is a singing group in the area. Liz is part of the team working on Dementia Friendly Gillingham, another community project.
Liz also works with Gillingham Community Kindness- a team of 86 volunteers. “They help with anything from befriending to doing the shopping for someone, and they even moved furniture for a local lady coming home from hospital.” During the first lockdown, Gillingham Town Council got a leaflet to each resident outlining where they could get help and the volunteers were on hand to offer support.
Asked about challenges, Liz identified a few. Not surprisingly, time was an issue, and having to be in two places at once on occasions. It can be difficult as a lone worker- she is looking for a “partner in crime.” A second post to work alongside Liz is currently advertised just in case anyone is inspired by the work she has been doing.
I asked Liz how people in Gillingham can help support the service. “They can like our Facebook page and also spread the word about Gillingham Community Kindness. If they know someone who may need a little support in the community, please reach out to us so we can get in touch. There is always a need for volunteers and people are welcome to join the team.”
Social prescribing in the NHS is here to stay and it seems that the small things and a dose of kindness make a big difference to people.
If you would like to get in touch with Liz at the Vale Partnership you can contact her on Liz.Rose@dorsetgp.nhs.uk at Gillingham Medical Practice.
By: Rachael Rowe