How we encourage self-care - Guest blog by Dave Chorlton

Article posted on 12th March 2019

Health and social care

As one of the health champions at Alvanley Family Practice, I know how important it is to encourage patient self-care and other alternative care methods.

I’ve been a patient with Alvanley Family Practice since 1972 and decided to become a practice health champion in March 2017 so that I could give something back to the practice that’d supported me and my family for decades.  With support from Kay Keane, the practice business manager at Alvanley and other members of the team like training assistant practitioner Gaynor Smith, we’ve been able to build a strong sense of community. All the team have a great relationship with one another and with the patients. In the four and three years respectively that Kay and Gaynor have been with us, they’ve become a part of the Alvanley family. It’s this family feel that really makes Alvanley Family Practice stand out from other practices.

Because of our community feel we’re more able to offer new and people-focussed ways of improving the health and wellbeing of the locals and, more importantly, encourage people to use these activities and sessions to manage their own health.

“Not every condition can be treated with a pill.”

Kay Keane, practice manager, Alvanley Family Practice

A collaborative healthcare community

As a team, we work closely together to ensure each patient is directed to the most appropriate source of support, which might not necessarily be their GP. Both Kay and Gaynor have said that because patients now have a growing understanding that they might not need to see a doctor for every condition, fewer of them are booking into GP clinics. Now, instead of seeing 15 patients per clinic our GPs see 12 patients per clinic as more and more patients are using alternative services and therapies to self-manage their conditions.

Kay also says that, “by building a collaborative network that focuses on sharing experiences and knowledge, we’re more able to support patients to self-care in many different ways.”

Activities to support better wellbeing and physical health

  • Group education sessions help patients see that they’re not alone in managing their condition and help to reduce embarrassment. It also saves nurses’ time by bringing similar patients together to address common issues in one session.
  • Experts by experience events give patients the chance to learn from the experience of others to help them manage their own conditions more effectively.
  • Fortnightly phone-ins help to tackle loneliness and isolation within the community by giving patients someone to listen to them and talk to about their day.
  • Wednesday Wanders run by Gaynor get patients walking together over a Wednesday lunch time to help them get moving. As a result, it helps to improve both their mental wellbeing and physical fitness.
  • Sing-along sessions and local allotments give patients a chance to use their skills in a social environment and improve their mental wellbeing.

Although setting up these new services and activities took time, Kay and Gaynor have both said how much time they’ve freed up for the nursing and reception team by bringing patients together to tackle similar issues in joint sessions. It also meant that for Gaynor, she wasn’t necessary seeing less patients, but she’s having better quality consultations. Kay told me that now she feels like she has “a team working around her to achieve the same goal. All the benefits have really been worth the time that went in to setting things up.”

The activities have also provided opportunities for myself and other practice health champions to support the gaps that nurses and receptionists simply don’t have enough to time for, ensuring patient needs are met without increasing the unnecessary workload on the team.

“I’m busier now, but it’s a better busy. I’m seeing the patients I need to see because they’re being directed to the right service from the start”

Gaynor Smith, training assistant practitioner, Alvanley Family Practice

Introducing wellbeing prescriptions

In our first practice health champions meeting we came up with the idea of a ‘wellbeing prescription’. These prescriptions gave doctors the chance to direct patients to the most appropriate activity or service that might help them improve their health and wellbeing. What we’d found was that many patients felt like they hadn’t been taken seriously if they left the doctor’s surgery without a prescription, so these gave us the ideal opportunity to give some authority to our self-care and holistic options.

The wellbeing prescriptions carry information about various sessions and activities we offer throughout the practice, as well as information on how they can get in touch with myself and the other practice health champions. As practice champions we often have a little extra knowledge about what’s happening in the local community and can recommend or share information on certain activities that might not be included in the existing wellbeing prescription. It just means we’ve always got an option for patients to try.

Growing as a business and as a community

Because patients are now more aware of how to holistically treat and manage their health conditions, fewer people are making GP appointments. Since we introduced the practice health champions scheme, Kay has told me that “the practice has grown by 25%. We haven’t had to bring in any extra GPs or nurses to accommodate that growth.” Patients are now realising the benefits of holistic and self-care methods and are able to manage their health more effectively without placing added strain on the practice or our clinical resources.  

And it’s not just the practice that’s benefited from this change in perspective. In my role as practice health champion I’ve met countless people who’ve benefited from the different activities and holistic treatments we’re recommending and setting up. We have a range of patients using these treatments, male and female, young and old coming together to share their experiences and support each other in managing their mental and physical health.


Helping patients overcome their health challenges

There have been so many positive impacts of the practice health champion scheme, but one of the best outcomes has been hearing back from patients about all the ways it’s helped them improve their health and wellbeing. We’ve had disabled veterans suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) tell us how our sessions and activities have helped them reintegrate with society. One patient with COPD has been able to make use of Patient Access to see when he needs to use his rescue pack so that he doesn’t have to call a nurse. Plus, one patient who struggled with his breathing found that over time, his breathing improved through taking part in our Wednesday Wanders, so much so that eventually he was able to get all the way to the top of a steep hill without stopping for breath. Before coming with us that would never have been possible for him so we were all really pleased to see him succeed with it – some of the team even shed a tear.

The impact of the practice health champion scheme has been astounding and has spread far across the Woodley area. Both patients and the team at the practice have benefited and we’ve even had patients from other practices join our activities too. So much good has come from the work put into creating and running the scheme that I have just one piece of advice for those thinking about setting up a similar scheme in their own practice – don’t talk about it, don’t think about it. Just do it.

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