A rose by any other name…

Written by: Mark Kelvin, Programme Manager, the ALLIANCE

Published: 13/09/2013

Links Worker Programme - 2 weeks in

I’ve now been in post two weeks and I feel like I have a good number of the pieces that I need to build the jigsaw puzzle that is the Link Programme. There is a good handful of blue/grey bits, these are definitely sky and I can see roughly where they go. I have two of the corner pieces, (and unless I’ve got the picture totally wrong), these are fixed points in the programme that I can refer back too when I’m not quite sure where the other bits belong. I’ve also got a few pink pieces, these definitely belong together but I’m not yet certain where they belong in the big picture, a lot of them seem to be slightly different shades of pink. I’m not concerned though, time will reveal all…

The pink pieces – rose or rosa?

The question that I have been asked the most over these last two weeks is “What makes your programme different?” A very good question. In order to answer it I’ve needed to explore the various link worker roles that already do exist, or have existed in the past.

There are, or have been, a number of projects and programmes set up to explore a Link Worker role. Within these projects, the role often falls under a different name; Community Sign-posters, Community Navigators, Community Catalysts, Local Area Coordinators etc etc. (If you know any other job titles for these roles then please feel free to add in the comments box below, this would be helpful.)

So what’s the difference between these workers? Actually, in most cases, not a lot. And here’s where the blog’s title will begin to make sense (hopefully).

Like the rosa genome, the individual roses share common features, they’re familiar but thrive in different environments, and I think that the ability to adapt is vital to the success of the link worker role. A role that’s recognised by its potential partners, but one that adapts to suit it’s local environment. But what about the approach in general? Bear with me as I stick with the rose analogy… If a rose is planted in a garden where the soil was prepared, and the gardener watered, fed and dead-headed the rose regularly, clearly it stands the best chances. How would that compare then to a rose whose well-intentioned gardener popped it in to a clay-heavy soil without first preparing the ground and planting it in the shade? I’m afraid the odds are stacked against it. This is where our approach is slightly different to others that are running elsewhere.

The Link Worker Approach

Our approach will focus on the primary care team. It will not focus on the Link worker role, but the entire Link worker approach. An important differentiation. We will be exploring how a Link Worker can best integrate with the primary care team, and how members of the primary care team can embrace and include a link aspect into their existing role. With the exception of the additional link worker role, the practice will look the same, but the way in which the team habitually behave, will change. (Hopefully!)

Where are we now?

Dr Peter Cawston (Clinical Lead for this programme) and I are currently developing two papers. Peter is conducting a literature review exploring evidence relating to the role of the link worker in reducing health inequalities. I am researching existing and previous projects, link worker roles, and theorising links approaches. The findings of these two papers will inform a formal options paper that we will then present to the reference and evaluation groups. We can then decide on the chosen model(s) and begin to plan the evaluation criteria, number of practices, link worker job description, person specification, governance, ethics considerations etc etc.

I’m in the process of meeting with the stakeholders in the programme and am also developing the project timeline and communication strategy. If I haven’t been in touch with you to arrange a meeting, and you think it would be beneficial, please email me.

In conclusion, a thoroughly enjoyable and energising first two weeks. The team at The Alliance and all other stakeholders have been especially welcoming. A particular thank you to Dr Peter Cawston, Christine Hoy and Jane Ankori, who have spent a lot of time catching me up on the background of the programme and generally keeping me right these first two weeks. Thanks guys!

That’s all for now, I’m off to tend to the garden…


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