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Initiative to support patients to live their best life

A social prescriber is now working with ward staff at the West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (WSFT) in Bury St Edmunds, supporting patients with personalised care to help them improve their health and wellbeing.

While social prescribing is well known in community settings, it is less familiar to find a social prescriber like Stefan Currington on an acute ward, and this is a new role for the West Suffolk Hospital.  

“My work is focused on improving patients’ quality of life, taking a holistic view and helping them to solve problems, and improve their physical and mental health,” said Stefan, who is on a 12-month secondment. “I hope to be able to empower them to make better health and wellbeing decisions to prevent future admission or reliance on the hospital or primary care.”                                                                                  

Stefan has worked for the Trust for 14 years, progressing from nursing and therapy assistant posts to an assistant practitioner in therapy, and spent five years with the lymphoedema team. “In my career I have worked in both acute and community settings across Suffolk, both remotely and clinic working, which has given me a broad experience of the ways to help people make positive decisions about their health. I can have conversations with people and develop personalised care and support plans,” he said.

Social prescribing enables health and care professionals to refer or signpost people to local non-clinical services that will benefit them in their daily lives and improve their overall health and wellbeing. Stefan screens patient data to identify those who would benefit from social prescribing, with the aim to assist them in being discharged from the ward to their home and having a better quality of life when they are there. His work involves referring on to the social prescribers working in the community to ensure the patient has access to ongoing support.

“People’s needs are as varied and individual as they are,” said Stefan. “They may have care in place, or family helping them, but there can be a background need that could be met by other support. Often people may not have spoken up about the problems they have; they may not meet the need for social care but can be very socially isolated. Patients may be mobile and able to care for themselves, and so are discharged, but there are deeper needs there. That is where I try to help.”

Stefan said issues can range from unsuitable housing, to needing someone to walk a dog. “My first question is ‘what matters to you?’ It’s not necessarily the question medical staff ask as they have other priorities in meeting people immediate health needs. Someone may need a fridge, or a better pair of shoes so they can improve their mobility. At the same time, if your finances or housing are causing you problems, you won’t engage with your health,” he said.

As a social prescriber, Stefan has the time to find out more about the patient in their own voice, getting a full picture of their circumstances, and what might help them live a more independent life. “Connecting with the local community can reduce dependence on public services, and I can also help with accessing national and regional support. Personal health care budgets align with this, and people can access these to support discharge.”

Stefan continued: “There are so many services in our communities that I can refer to, for example, the British Red Cross, OneLife Suffolk, Suffolk Family Carers, Citizens’ Advice, or Abbeycroft Leisure to improve their fitness. There are also wellbeing groups and classes, or just informal places to get together for a coffee, for example in libraries.” Getting a patient home safely could include a simple change to their home; or asking the fire service to do an assessment and see where safety could be improved.

Most people on the ward are there for about 72 hours, and Stefan can have one or two contacts with them, signposting, actively referring, and making sure their conversation is tailored to what will bring the most benefit. “Many people’s physical and mental conditions deteriorated in the lockdowns, and isolation increased during the pandemic. I want to help people see that they can improve their lives, despite the problems they have.”

Clement Mayowo, director of integrated adult health and social care for West Suffolk said: “Stefan’s work is very important, it is such a positive innovation to have him on the ward at the WSH. Social prescribing is the way forward to support so many people to have a better quality of life and greater independence. We need to expand the model in west Suffolk, and I am glad Stefan is working so closely with the social prescribers in community.”

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Stefan Currington, social prescriber at the West Suffolk Hospital

Stefan Currington, social prescriber at the West Suffolk Hospital