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What’s a link worker and how can your PCN recruit one?

1 August 2019

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NHS England has released additional guidance for primary care networks (PCNs) on how best to introduce a social prescribing link worker to their team.

With time, a social prescribing link worker will be expected to take referrals from a range of people. In 2019/20, this will be limited to the PCN’s GP practices staff, but from 2020/21, this will be broadened to ‘pharmacies, wider multi-disciplinary teams, hospital discharge teams, allied health professionals, fire service, police, job centres, social care services, housing associations, and voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) organisations’.

checklist for PCNs – attached to the guidance published by NHS England – offers a good tool for PCNs to make sure they hire the right person.

The official document is 43 pages long but, if you want a quick summary, read our pick for what PCNs need not to forget when recruiting and introducing a link worker to their team.

1. Highlight what their responsibilities are

When recruiting a social prescribing link worker, PCNs need to look for a highly organised person, who will be asked to mange their own caseload. Link workers will work with patients to produce a personalised health and care plan, but they will also be expected to understand when a patient needs to be referred to a healthcare professional.

Link workers will also inform their PCN members of what other services are available in the community and how people can access them.

2. Ask the right questions 

An effective link worker needs to be empathetic towards their patients, while also possessing great team-working skills, as they will be expected to work across different teams.

NHS England has created a list of potential interview questions you can ask your candidates. Some are designed to test the interviewee’s understanding of health inequalities and assess the experience they’ve had of supporting someone with complex issues, for instance.

3. Give them a great induction

Link workers should recognise how social prescribing can improve people’s lives and know what their role within the wider PCN team is.

You can use NHS England’s checklist to make sure your induction covers everything a link worker needs to know prior to starting their role.

This includes explaining how the link worker needs to be able to support people while remaining impartial without getting too involved with patients’ lives.

4. Choose a workplace buddy 

Link workers might come from diverse backgrounds, such as social care, charity or health. They might not necessarily be familiar with their new workplace setting, so it is a great idea to appoint a first point of contact in each GP practice.

NHS England says that this role could become ‘a designated “social prescribing champion” within each member practice’.

This person will ensure the link worker builds ‘effective working arrangements with all staff within the member practices’ and is supported by all staff.

However, if the designated social prescribing champion is not a GP, NHS England clarified that PCNs must also appoint a GP supervisor who will line manage the work of the link worker daily.