Carla Maxwell, Community Link Worker Coordinator (South) Lanarkshire Primary Care Improvement Team

How have you been able to keep a focus on what matters to people during COVID? 

I was employed to my current post in November 2019. I am part of a team who are implementing and setting up a team of GP Community Link Workers (CLWs) across Lanarkshire. The CLWs Programme is a part of the GMS contract commitment aimed at enhancing primary care teams to support people to live well in their communities. The programme brings together the fields of primary care and community development. A GP CLW is a non-clinical practitioner based in or aligned to a GPs who  works directly with patients to help them navigate and engage with wider services. They  offer non clinical support to patients, enabling them to set goals and overcome barriers,  so that they can take greater control of their health and well-being. Our team at present  is my manager and service manager Babs Gemmell, my colleague Lynn Cunningham CLW  Coordinator North and myself for South. 

I have been involved with the Personal Outcomes Network for a few years now through  my previous role and within my new role we will be keeping outcomes for patients at the  centre of developing our new community link worker model and the work that we will be  doing with patients. Prior to COVID-19, we were at the point of recruiting 18 community  link workers. However this has not been able to progress due to the pandemic  restrictions in place and changes to work programmes to accommodate the prioritisation  of patient care during this challenging period.  

My role for now has changed and my manager Babs, my colleague Lynn and myself have  all been redeployed to support COVID-19 work programmes. We are all working in  different aspects within the COVID-19 Assessment Centres and a triage hub. My manager  Babs, is the lead operational manager overseeing all aspects of service delivery. Lynn and  I help and support Babs. Through this experience I have been thinking a lot about how we  develop the CLW teams as we move to recovery post COVID-19 and recognise that there will need to be new ways of working and that the outcomes might be different for people. 

What have you had to do differently and what made this possible?

Lynn and I have been keeping in touch with CLW organisations across Scotland during this  period via Scottish Social Prescribing Network meetings using Zoom. It has been great to  hear from colleagues about how they are adjusting in the current circumstances and what  they are planning moving forward. It’s interesting too because the CLW model varies  across Scotland, with some teams being NHS led, others local authority and others third  sector. There is a lot we can learn from each other. 

I am planning and thinking about how we meet and address any challenges when  lockdown restrictions are eased for the patients and our staff team. This will be quite  different to how we originally had planned. Even finishing the recruitment and induction  of the CLW team will be different.  

We want to make sure that we can keep the focus on what matters to the people we will  be supporting. Our CLWs will be considering community-based resources as part of  meeting patient outcomes and we want to ensure that we have a holistic and person  centred approach and that is at the heart of what we do, not only for the patients but for  our CLWs as well. 

A big challenge is that the community is very different now from before lockdown. Part of  the job, moving forward, is going to be researching how our community works now. How  are they all responding and what does that mean for people. We also expect that financial wellbeing and coping with loss will be key outcomes for people in addition to tackling  isolation and wider quality of life outcomes.  

What have you noticed that has been better? 

I have noticed that there is more cooperation and sense of community going on between  different services as people have to find ways of responding to COVID-19 pandemic crisis  and that the community have also contributed to helping with that as well even while  they are dealing with their own crisis. I have also noticed new ways of thinking and adapting to the changes and challenges everyone has been facing. 

How did this make you feel?  

I feel optimistic that we will find ways to continue supporting people to have a good life because everyone is pulling together across all services and we will adapt and change to  help meet the needs of the patients that we will be seeing.  

I am concerned about the affect the past few months will have had on patients mental  health and wellbeing and the lasting effects of grief, poverty and ill health. How have they  coped? Have they developed new coping mechanisms? What has changed for them?  When we start to engage fully with our patients these are going to be very interesting  conversations and some great work with the patients regarding personal outcomes. 

Life is a journey and myself, Babs, Lynn and the rest of our team are all very lucky to be  getting the chance to be part of someone else’s journey when they engage with our  service and help them to achieve their outcomes.

What have you learned through this?  

I enjoyed hearing from colleagues across Scotland and from our local communities, local  authorities and third sectors about what they have been doing during this time and how  they have adapted their way of working.  

Anything else you want to tell us?  

The community link work never leaves my head. I am always looking for things that I  think will help us to build the team and support patients’. You have to keep looking  forward at a time like this and look at new ways of ensuring that everyone is included and  has the opportunity to access the services that they need.