For several years now, the surgeries that now form the North Bucks Primary Care Network (PCN) have been running a Patient Support Service. But what is it? How did it start? And how does it fit into new PCN plans?
What is the Patient Support Service?
In short, the Patient Support Service is a team of trained individuals. They visit patients to assist them to stay independent and wherever possible stay in their own homes. The team can also direct patients to national or local groups in their area.
Many of these groups focus on specific health issues, like support groups. Other groups can also run wellbeing activities and help with loneliness. These can include walking groups, coffee mornings, social groups or even gardening sessions. In directing people to these groups, the team was effectively already running a social prescribing service in addition to the other signposting activities.
How did this service start?
The service started out to help patients stay healthy and independent. This would allow them to stay in their own home for as long as possible. The people that worked on this, then called the ‘Over 75 Team’, began by getting in touch with people across the North Locality who were over 75, and had not been to see a GP in over 2 years.
They found that many of these people were generally well, but could be socially isolated. To counter this the team developed a Telephone Support Service. This is thanks to the team of over 30 local trained volunteers. The service checks in on some of these people on a regular basis to make sure they are staying well and have a quick chat. Volunteers can report back to the team if they think they need additional help or support.
Overall this service has been proven to work well, as patients’ moods and health improved. The list of social and wellbeing activities to recommend to people grew larger every month. It now stands at 400+ organisations and groups.
How does this fit in with Primary Care Networks?
Now, with the new PCN contracts, Social Prescribers will be a mainstay of GP practices. They will work to do exactly what the Patient Support Service has been doing for many years; helping people find alternative sources of support, not just GPs and hospitals. The 6 people working on the Patient Support Service will now become Social Prescribers, overseen by a Social Prescribing Lead.
Typical PCNs will only have 2-3 Social Prescribers for each Network. But the North Bucks PCN is a great example of where these services could go, and how many people and organisations they could reach.
Keith Hofgartner, the Social Prescribing Lead at North Bucks PCN, said:
The future will be interesting as we continue to develop the team and include the introduction of ‘Personal Budgets’ for eligible patients in 2023/24 for social prescribing and well-being. This will allow for access to more traditional activities. For example, an eligible patient who wants to get more active would be offered ‘exercise on prescription’ with a local sport centre. Or, with a ‘not for profit organisation’ providing activities that a patient might be happy to pay for, from their personal budget.