Develop the roles of the Community Links Practitioners (CLPs) do not diminish them.

In 1999, COPE Scotland explored the idea of ‘an alternative prescription pad’. Working with the voices of lived experience we co-designed, “an at a glance guide to support people experiencing low mood and depression”. The idea was, rather than GPs automatically prescribing an antidepressant, they would consider connecting the person to local support that could help them address the route of their depression. Often people’s low mood was a natural reaction to what life had thrown at them and a tablet was not always the answer. While seeing some value in it, the GPs didn’t want to be seen to ‘prescribe’ services, e.g a money advice service. Something else was needed which GPs felt confident to link people to.

In 2010, COPE Scotland worked with the ALLIANCE and the local Deep End GPs in West Glasgow to explore the ideas of social prescribing, shown in one of the reports from this work ‘Link‘. With the GPs support the ALLIANCE were able to secure funding for the Community Links Workers, now Community Links Practitioners (CLPs). Their impact was so significant that the model began to be rolled out so more people could benefit from the service they offered. Listening to those they served the CLPs went on to develop more ways to help people self manage their conditions e.g., involvement with local community growing, support groups for vulnerable young people. Key to the CLPs model is ‘linking’, recognising people need more than a phone number, they may also need support to make that first step towards accessing support.

COPE Scotland, whose focus is around mental health and wellbeing, has never been about growing an empire of COPEs. We work with individuals and communities to help build their confidence and capacity to take forward their ideas, as highlighted in this booklet: COPE Scotland Past Present and Future.  As more people were able to self manage their condition, more peer support groups became established and the roles of the CLPs became more diverse, we noticed a reduction in referrals to our service. Over a 3-year period we wound down our one-to-one mental health and wellbeing service and are now focused on wider population based and capacity building around adapting to change and building resilience and coping strategies to life’s challenges and stressors. The changes in how we offer services meant we did not apply to the Glasgow Community Fund or the Self Management Fund, as we did not want to compete with others we had helped. To hear there are plans to reduce the number of CLPs has left us feeling totally confused and concerned about the support that is being taken away for people who need it most. The CLPs model should not be reduced but expanded. There are projects and there are services, projects have an ending, services do not. The CLP programme is not a project, it is a service.  An incredibly valuable one.

With waiting lists and new challenges facing people and communities, the connections they have to support themselves and each other matters more than ever. Failing to invest in early intervention and support will result in poor health outcomes. Whatever money is saved reducing the CLP programme, will be a fraction of the increased costs when the impact of them no longer being available hits home. Before making final decisions, we suggest; carry out an impact assessment, a cost benefit analysis, don’t wait until its too late then years later decide, ‘’mmm wouldn’t someone based within primary care who can help people link to supports to address the wider determinants of health be a good idea?’’

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