A new social care database is being used by 50 GP practices in Cheshire to signpost patients to support, advice and social opportunities – improving local health and wellbeing.
GP practices report that a significant proportion of patients making appointments don’t need to see a GP. Patients will often visit their family doctor because of issues ranging from loneliness to a need for advice and support with simple daily tasks.
Many practices provide a wealth of literature about charities and social organisations, but it can be difficult to direct patients to information relevant to their needs.
One practice manager in Cheshire decided to address the problem by creating an accessible online database of non-clinical resources available to local communities. Carehub.info Limited now operates in 50 GP practices across the county to provide patients with easy access to information about local organisations and community groups who can help.
Carehub is a website that lists services ranging from major charities like Macmillan Cancer Support to local groups such as knitting circles and sports clubs. Many GP surgeries in Cheshire provide access to the service through their practice websites, and some provide access via touch screens in their waiting rooms. In May over 800 users logged on to Carehub, and read over 3,000 pages of information.
The initiative has been supported by the Innovation Agency, the Academic Health Science Network for the North West Coast. The Innovation Agency has helped facilitate the spread of the service by introducing Carehub to healthcare organisations in Cheshire.
Dr Rowan Brookes, a GP at Upton Village Surgery, said: “The NHS is under tremendous pressure and there is a shortage of GPs. Many of the problems that a GP sees have a social component to the illness presented, such as loneliness and subsequent depression in the elderly.
“These problems are not truly medical but if addressed will help the health of the individual. Use of the third sector in these cases can be valuable, but each GP or clinician is not aware of all the services on offer so wellbeing coordinators have been introduced into the NHS to help navigate people in the appropriate direction for help.
“Carehub is a valuable central resource which patients can also access directly, as well as the wellbeing coordinators and clinicians if need be. This will help improve patient self-reliance and self-care. A great resource well done!”
Dr Claire Baker, a GP at Kelsall Medical Centre, said: “Social isolation is one of our biggest problems. We see so many people who are lonely, but as clinicians we’re not always very good at social prescribing. It’s not because we don’t want to do it, it’s because it’s not very easy for us; we don’t have many things beyond medicines in our toolkit. Carehub gives us the ability to direct patients to a signposting tool that we know is up to date.
“For people with chronic neurological problems for example, or for people with dementia and their carers, it’s not just the medication which makes a difference – it’s the local tai chi class, it’s the yoga class; and it’s not just the physical activity, it’s the social support too.
“We currently refer five to 10 patients a week to Carehub but I think that number could be higher. We’re in the process of building a wellbeing hub next to our surgery and we plan to have iPads and trained staff there to help patients access Carehub. We’re so keen for it to be the database we all use. If we’re all using the same thing, that’s really helpful.”
Tracey Palmer, who created Carehub, said: “When I worked as a practice manager we were getting patients coming in who really didn’t need to come and see us, but they didn’t know where else to go. We’d get retirees who were suffering from boredom or loneliness, or new mums who were struggling. What they needed were social connections.
“Carehub provides people with information according to their need. Rather than look for a particular service or organisation, users can easily search by what problems or challenges they’re looking for help or support with. One of our GPs now signposts patients to Carehub every day – that’s their prescription; join a couple of clubs, don’t come back in until you have!
“The Innovation Agency has opened doors for us. I didn’t have the resources to contact 7,000 GP practices, but the Innovation Agency has introduced me to the right people at the right meetings.”
Photo: Indi Singh with Tracey Palmer and Rowan Brookes