Making links through lockdown

Written by: Andrew Strong, Director of Integrated Services, the ALLIANCE

Published: 05/08/2020

Our Community Links Practitioners have supported and been in touch with over 3,500 people across Glasgow during lockdown.

It is now over four months since lockdown began and the pandemic became an inconvenient and terrifying reality for millions of people across Scotland. Social distancing meant the usual, and natural, ways of working were upended, with many people placed on furlough and lots of us working from home.

The ALLIANCE’s Community Links Practitioners have been particularly affected by the pandemic. Their role, to help people who are presenting at GP practices but might need non-medical help, relies on face to face contact – so what now? Since March they have had 3,500 individual telephone conversations with people across Glasgow and have taken the opportunity to document their varying experiences throughout lockdown.

They have been on hand to support GP practices to contact people on the practice shielding list. In many cases this has involved speaking to them to explain the guidance letter from the Chief Medical Officer and answering any questions or concerns they might have. As Nikki Smith’s recent blog for the ALLIANCE highlighted, these conversations often turned to creative solutions, as shielders explored personal ways to deal with the stress and anxiety this entails.

As Deborah Hamilton notes, the Links team itself “reflects wider society in the differences in their lockdown experiences”, whether that be in family, home or working circumstances. Lynsey Brodie wrote on day one of self-isolation, this adds to the feeling that “it’s hard to imagine the role of a Community Links Practitioner in a home-working setting. The clue is in the title, “Community” – how can any community work be achieved when people everywhere are self-isolating, having to work from home while the community as we know it, is starting to close down?”

However, Lynsey’s own blog (this link will take you away from our website) details this process from day one to day seventy, whilst highlighting the interweaving of the personal and professional many of us have experienced during the pandemic. CLPs have continued to work closely with their communities, the challenge of “phoning lawyers to speaking to numerous charities” that is the everyday experience of a Community Links Practitioner.

Home working has, however, highlighted the value of our Community Links Practitioners like never before. As Neil Girvan told healthandsocialcare.scot recently (this link will take you away from our website), CLPs “were able to still be on hand to support people who should have been on the shielding list but weren’t registered, but also help people who were on the shielding list but due to various issues – this was the first thing I noticed – were being left in the dark a wee bit.” He notes that this particularly applied to people with additional support needs.

In the midst of lockdown, the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked the widespread Black Lives Matters protests across the world. Glasgow was no different and our CLPs, Emer McGinnity, Sairah Qureshi and Abelomai Luncheon, wrote for the ALLIANCE on the systemic issues resulting from institutionalised racism in health and social care. This highlighted some striking examples of inequality of care and support – and a timely reminder that racial injustice continues to blight all of our institutions and that action is required by us all to tackle it.

Since the Department for Work and Pensions moved some of their state entitlements to an online assessment process, we’ve also heard of higher than usual rates of shielding people being refused access to entitlements, with healthandsocialcare.scot highlighting our concerns in a recent article (this link will take you away from our website). Many people with mental health problems struggle to speak on the phone, people with hearing impairments have been forced to take part in inaccessible telephone assessments whilst others have reported being sanctioned during COVID-19 after unclear communication.

Now while Scotland faces up to the changing circumstances ahead of us, as leisure facilities reopen and we begin to see more of each other and the various assets in our local areas, our Community Links Practitioners are tentatively re-entering the primary care setting. As Deborah wrote, she has been desperate to get back to “some semblance of normality” and starting back in the GP surgery two days per week. While this is not everyone’s experience, some CLPs have adapted so well to home working they aren’t sure about returning to surgery, it is satisfying to note that the person centred, flexible approach adopted by our Programme Manager Roseann Logan is resulting in a staff team re-entering the world of making links at their own distinct pace.

The coming weeks will, no doubt, include further reflection on primary care, and the links role within it. In my new role as the ALLIANCE’s Director of Integrated Services, I’m responsible for overseeing the innovative work of our Community Links Practitioners, and will be taking a keen interest in ensuring that their experiences – and the views of people they work with and for – are at the centre. Deep End GPs have already reported that the links worker role has been “completely invaluable”, questioned how practices in areas of deprivation manage without one and called for expansion of the role across the country. This message is one we must not forget as we move into the next phase.

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