Health 'champion' initiative transforms lives
Big Local residents in Bedford are celebrating the success of a trailblazing collaboration with a doctor's surgery.
Kingsbrook and Cauldwell Big Local have funded a Community Health Champion who has proved to be the vital ‘missing link’ in holistic care for GP surgery patients.
Based in a local surgery, the Health Champion, Simon, is connecting patients to life-changing services and opportunities that already exist locally but that they would not otherwise have known about. This has led to improvements in health and wellbeing that could not be achieved by a GP appointment alone.
Most people leave a GP appointment with the prescription or medical referral that they need, but GPs do not always have capacity to help address underlying issues, such as a poor support network, poor housing or an inactive lifestyle, that could be affecting patients’ health.
The Health Champion fills this gap, signposting and even accompanying people to attend carers’ support groups, debt and benefits advice, walking groups, and more.
Simon has also partnered with local organisations to set up new initiatives that people can join, including a diabetes support group, therapeutic gardening group, and a Junior ParkRun running group, all of which have seen huge takeup.
Simon’s role is unique within the 24 GP practices covering Bedford Borough population and he joins a pioneering wave of ‘social prescribing’ in the UK.
The difference it makes
Some of the areas within the Kingbrook and Cauldwell Big Local area are among the 10% most deprived nationally, with residents facing multiple health inequalities including a life expectancy that is lower than in the least deprived areas of Bedford.
Impact on individuals’ lives in Bedford has included reduced anxiety and depression, improved mobility, weightloss, being better able to manage long term conditions, and relief of stress that comes with accessing peer support groups or getting help on debt or benefits issues.
‘I was referred to the community health champion by my Cognitive Behavioural Therapist. He sat down with me whilst I filled out forms I had been putting off doing for ages because of my anxiety. After working through them together he told me about a group called ‘Men in Sheds’ where men get together to work on DIY projects. I was a bit anxious about going so the health champion met me at the group to introduce me, I feel more confident and I have my paper work in order now.’ — Mr A, 49 years old.
‘I was referred by the practice nurse to see the Community Health Champion; I wasn’t sure what he did. Me and my friend now meet the health champion twice a week to go walking after I was told that I need to lose a considerable amount of weight, I weighed 125 kg. My mobility has decreased so I walk quite slowly but I am seeing the benefits already, I can now walk a lot further before needing to stop. I complete a daily food and activity diary which we review on our walks and I get tips. In the first 7 weeks I have lost 6kg. Now on a Friday we finish the walk at a local coffee group which me and my friend love as we have met lots of new people.’ — Ms C, 56 years old.
A recent evaluation of the trial looked at 10 case studies of patients who had had support from Simon, and found that the total health and social care savings and benefits across these case studies amounted to £39,667 – for example through doctor and nurse appointments avoided and physical inactivity avoided.
According to the report, there was also £9,067 total monetary benefit to the 10 individuals, such as benefits, grants and training accessed through support from the Community Health Champion.
Big Local kick-starts the scheme
The Big Local partnership consulted the community on how to spend the Big Local £1m in Kingsbrook and Cauldwell, and found that people wanted to see support to create ‘a happy and active community’ and ‘a caring community’, as top priorities.
When Big Local volunteers began reaching out to see how they could work with the local GPs to achieve this, the London Road surgery explained that they knew from a recent ‘Understanding Health Inequalities’ project (undertaken with Bedford Borough Public Health team) that a Health Champion role was what could make the biggest difference to their patients.
Big Local were delighted to kick-start this solution that may never have otherwise got off the ground. The resident-led Big Local partnership voted to invest in a 12-month trial of the post, and supported the recruitment and induction of Simon. The Big Local partnership introduced Simon in person to many community groups and activities that he could connect patients to.
Doctors and nurses started to refer people to Simon, and he also began to engage people in the surgery waiting room and flu clinics, or through meeting people at community events.
After the first 12 months, the results were so exciting for everyone concerned, that Big Local agreed to extend the trial by 7 months. Now, the results are so impressive that the GP surgery have decided to take on funding this role themselves. In the light of the success at London Road surgery, many more local surgeries are looking to follow suit. Big Local’s pioneering trial is leaving a fantastic lasting impact.
‘The London Road Health Surgery has one of the more deprived practice populations in Bedford Locality. Linking the practice and the community means that the Community Health Champion is now having an impact on reducing health inequalities which can adversely affect the most vulnerable people, including those who are disadvantaged, have disability, and are unemployed, on low income or in minority ethnic communities, and those at risk of social isolation.’ — Barbara Wonford, Public Health Senior Practitioner (Vulnerable Groups), Bedford Borough Council
With his post now funded by the surgery, Simon continues to signpost patients to the many community activities that Big Local are supporting through their Big Local plan. It’s a collaboration that will be helping everyone to thrive for many years to come.
Tips for success
So how was a project like this achieved? Here’s some advice from Dot, chair of Kingsbrook and Cauldwell Big Local:
- Persist when you’re looking for partners. When I started ringing GP surgeries to ask about collaboration, some didn’t return my emails, but I followed up with phone calls and the partnership with the London Road Surgery came out of that.
- Be open minded. Our initial thought was that we’d heard people had to travel a long way for cholesterol checks so we wanted to propose something that would solve that. But when we heard what London Road surgery had in mind, we were open to a bigger plan on what we could achieve.
- Getting the right person for the Community Health Champion role has been very important to its success, so do your recruitment carefully. We were very lucky to get Simon, he is not someone from ‘outside’ coming in, and he’s engaging very well with local people. He also visited a similar scheme in East London to see how they did it, and we and the surgery ensured that he was offered a comprehensive induction and relevant training.
Find out more in this report.