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Taking a community approach to caring for our patients during the cost of living crisis

1 May 2023

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Social prescriber Charlotte Carson describes the help put in place at her practice as patients face tough times financially

The culmination of years of austerity, high demand on health services and the rising cost of living is taking its toll on the population of Frome Medical Practice in Somerset.  Those already in vulnerable situations are being pushed into worsening health and wellbeing, with the result that heath inequalities are widening.

Our practice’s social prescribing team, called Health Connections, has a live and well-established directory of local groups, projects and places to support health and wellbeing, helping those that need help be aware what support is out there.  The directory is accessible by anyone and is frequently used by practice staff, or during clinics and consultations.

To make sure as many people as possible are aware of what is available, especially for patients who are housebound or don’t have access to devices, Health Connections runs training sessions for people to become Community Connectors. They learn what what support is available and how to ‘signpost’ it to others. They have conversations with friends, strangers and neighbours, signposting to groups, projects or events to support a person’s health and more recently, with the cost of living challenges.

There are many more other measures too, to offer support within our community during a time of financial hardship.

Working within our community

Knowing that many factors determine an individual’s health not just the access or use of health care services, Frome Medical Practice has partnered with Frome Town Council and other organisations to support a healthy community and healthy environment.  Over the last few months, a leaflet about the cost of living has been distributed to every home.  This highlighted the following key areas of help support, (many of which our practice is playing an active part in delivering):

1.Housing

An initiative called Healthy Homes, developed by our practice and Frome Town Council, supports residents living in cold and damp homes, conditions that can lead to many health problems, including risks to respiratory health, heart attacks and pneumonia. Frome Medical Practice staff direct affected patients to the support they need and, where appropriate, refer them to a free and impartial energy advice service that can provide information on how to install energy efficient measures or access financial support/ government grants for home improvements. 

2.Money and Bills

As referrers to national and local funds, our practice staff support patients with emergency payments by directing individuals to free confidential financial advice.

3.Staying Healthy and Staying Connected

We can book patients in with a one-to-one consultation with Health Connections where they are supported in taking steps to improve their health.

Frome Medical Practice raises awareness of groups, such as our ‘Talking Benches’ and ‘Talking Cafes,’ that are regularly held at particular venues. Here, people can meet new people find out more about the services and groups in the area.

4. Eating Well and Support

Frome Medical Practice hosts Healthy Lifestyles groups to help patients achieve their own health goals. Sharing information on local organisations that provide free hot meals, food vouchers and many places across town that have opened their doors to anyone as Warm Spaces.

We can’t be a help to our patients by working alone. It’s vital we work with other local organisations

Our practice has chosen Active and in Touch as its charity of the year, which supports anyone feeling lonely or isolated and runs a community driver service for patients.  Its services are crucial during these times, generating a key network of support through the town and benefitting many (including the volunteers).

We will soon be reopening our onsite café, (which closed during the pandemic), which will be run by Active and in Touch volunteers, creating a safe and healthy space for staff and patients to come together.

Regular MDT meetings ensure that cases are shared with third sector and medical organisations meaning patient support can be streamlined just by connecting the organisations together regularly.  Health Connections also attends a regular, local initiative called the Support Agencies Network Group to update all providers on events or requests across Frome, which is then fed back to medical practice staff through weekly newsletters or team bulletins.

Working with individuals to achieve long term benefits

In 2020, we had the opportunity to develop our community work further by participating in the Green and Healthy Future for Frome project. This aims to identify where changes can be made to improve both health and climate outcomes. One area of focus involves the practice supporting patients to make healthier and greener choices regarding their own health and wellbeing. For example, stopping smoking, being more physically active, healthier eating, reducing stress and drinking less alcohol.

However, the practice is also looking internally at how it can make greener choices. We are encouraging patients to switch to ‘greener’, low carbon asthma inhalers, reducing the over-prescribing of antidepressants and blood pressure medication and encouraging changes to lifestyle as an alternative, which has the added benefit of saving the patient and practice money.

By working with our community and connecting individuals to the wide-ranging activities available in our area, Frome Medical Practice aims to support patients through these challenging times.

Charlotte Carson is Green Health Connector at Health Connections Mendip, Frome Medical Practice 


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