They say “a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down in the most delightful way.” But what if the sugar is actually a place to live, or someone to look after your dog or lunch with like-minded people?
When we go to the doctor’s we expect a prescription, maybe some advice but at St Martin’s practice, Chapeltown you may also get a social prescription, and that means a chance to chat with Leisa Batkin, wellbeing co-ordinator.
I asked Leisa to tell me what a wellbeing coordinator is when we met at a Healthy Lives, Healthy Homes meeting a few months earlier. “The best job ever. I’m able to give care, make a difference, not just to someone else’s wellbeing but my own as well.”
What is your role?
“Engaging people, understanding health inequalities and forming positive relationships.”
Originally a children’s nurse at St James’ Hospital six years ago Leisa left to become a mum and now four children later was ready to return to work. Although she loved being a nurse she knew it was emotionally draining and with a family to look after Leisa wanted a less complicated job, one that wouldn’t spill over into home, maybe something admin related. She saw a post advertised at St Martin’s practice, Chapeltown and applied in January 2014. She was offered a job but not the one she’d gone for. St Martin’s had put in a bid for funding with the North Clinical Commissioning Group for a social prescribing role to keep people well and have a positive impact on the GPs time, who were struggling to provide all the help people needed. The role was so new that it didn’t have a name and they didn’t know how it was going to work. But Leisa wanted to find out how.
“The more we learnt the more we knew we had to learn. It is an evolving job that keeps growing. I became more attached as I got to know the patients, staff and job. Let me give you an example”
Mr and Mrs A, an Eritrean couple, had made a GP appointment because Mr A, in his 30s, had problems with his knee. It was inflamed and very painful. During the consultation the GP became concerned about 20 year-old pregnant Mrs A who, although she had accompanied her husband, sat totally silent throughout the meeting. The GP thought Mrs A looked unwell and unhappy. When asked “are you OK?” Mrs A replied “everything isn’t OK”. The GP called in Leisa to talk to the couple and find out more.
It took just 45 minutes for Leisa to find out that the couple were refugees who had just been granted leave to remain in the UK. What should have been a happy time was proving to be a stressful one. Their new status meant they would have to leave their current accommodation by the day the baby was due to be born, however there were money problems and Mrs A wasn’t eating properly, she was homesick, and wanted her mum. They also didn’t have anything ready for the baby. Mr A was upset. But, Leisa was able to help. She got in touch with St Vincents for food parcels, with Positive Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers (PAFRAS) to help with welfare and with SOLACE for counselling and emotional support. She also contacted Borromeo Housing Inc (BHI) to help with housing and the National Childbirth Trust who had Eritrean translators. Leisa also used Streetwise to put out at an appeal for baby clothes and equipment. The response was overwhelming – cots, blankets, clothes and toys – so much that the extra was donated to other charities. Thanks to the GP getting Leisa involved the family are now housed and coping well.
In some ways Leisa isn’t surprised “As one mum to another, person to person I know that people want to be connected, want to help at a personal level” she says.
Leisa can give the extra time that the GP’s can’t. She can make the links with the third sector organisations that are there to help but may not be known to those in need. Leisa writes up her actions in the patient’s notes, scores them using a wellbeing template called the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (WEMWBS) and sends the information back to the GP.
She added “I have the time to sit down and talk to people to find out what support is needed.”
The GP’s do play an important role though, they are the first contact point, and they can tell when Leisa needs to get involved. If Leisa wasn’t on hand the GP’s would have to get in touch with the organisations themselves or as a final action just hand over a leaflet. Leisa’s role means a direct response is given not a referred response.
“It’s important that I’m linked with the GP service because it means I can get people the support they need.
“My medical background helps but a problem isn’t always medical, although it helps to be able to navigate around services.”
Leisa was asked to talk to John, a 41 year-old man who had come to the surgery for a sick note following a mental breakdown. He told her he was sofa surfing, depressed and had a history of alcohol and drug abuse. They were able to have a chat about what he could do and where he could get help. He is now involved in support groups, has his own flat and secured a job. And then there’s the lady in her 70’s who had a fractured hip but wouldn’t go into hospital because she was worried who would look after her dog as she had no friends or family. Leisa found the Cinnamon Trust who provided a volunteer to look after the dog. While the lady was in hospital her house was assessed for fall prevention and adapted to stop any future problems. Lastly there was the retired engineering lecturer who missed social interaction with his peers. Leisa put him in touch with Leeds Probus a men only social group.
Officially the job is only 20 hours a week but Leisa finds that it could be expanded to be practically full time. She has been asked to help with other practices but just isn’t able to at the moment, but there are plans to expand soon. She attends multi-disciplinary meetings and liaises with district nurses, social services and community matrons.
Currently Leisa is the only official wellbeing coordinator in Leeds but that is set to change. Leeds South East (LSE) Social Prescribing Service is being set up with Leeds Mind as the lead agency in a partnership with Hamara, Touchstone, Barca-Leeds, Better Leeds Communities and Leeds Irish Health and Homes and soon Leeds will have more wellbeing co-ordinators.
The last word is Leisa’s
“We have a moral responsibility to care for people. Being a wellbeing coordinator means I can do that. My actions have a direct positive affect on people’s lives keeping them well, staying longer in their own homes and putting them in touch with services that can help them stay that way. It’s a wonderful job.”