“After the Galpin’s Road gas explosion we called patients in the area and visited the New Horizon Centre every day to reach out to people who had been evacuated and offer appointments and support,” says Agnieszka Sethi from the Wide Way Medical Centre in Mitcham.
“Some would come into the surgery just to talk about the trauma of leaving their home with nothing. Later we organised a workshop for their mental wellbeing with Merton Uplift.”
This is one example of how GP practices have evolved to respond to the needs of local people, with the appointment of new kinds of healthcare professionals who address the social factors that influence health.
When you call or visit your surgery, you could now be referred to a health and wellbeing coach like Agnieszka, who will provide the lifestyle coaching to help you manage a long-term condition.
Agnieszka works alongside care coordinator Yolanda Burrito. Yolanda supports people through the medical maze to get treatment that’s right for them. Together, they give people the time they need to find solutions to their issues, with a focus on prevention, helping them change their lives for the better.
From Covid-19 to the cost-of-living crisis, people in the community have faced many challenges over the past few years, and the practice has responded. Agnieszka gave more examples: “When people arrived from Ukraine, our practice team went to explain how the medical system works here – from appointments to registration.
Following recent worries about the Strep A virus Agnieszka hosted a session with a GP at a parent and toddler group to give people essential advice.
Yolanda helps prepare people with long term conditions for clinical appointments, and to manage their treatments and changing needs. She said: “I ensure they have the knowledge to take responsibility; to look after their own health with our team.”
Yolanda explains how she helped an asylum seeker with no family in the UK who felt she had nowhere to turn: “She was struggling with her mental health, with worries over her immigration status. She wanted to feel that someone was there to listen. I put her in touch with services that could find her an advocate for the Home Office meetings. We also scheduled in regular appointments for her health checks, talking therapies and physiotherapy.
“After that she surprised me as she sounded so confident at one of our check-ins. Her life has improved now, and she has hope again. Just having someone here to give her that consistent presence made all the difference.”
According to Agnieszka, one of the areas where she makes the biggest positive impact is with people troubled with mental health issues. “They will come to me with disturbed sleep, stress, chronic pain or anxiety. When we start talking it turns out that it is deeply rooted in their past. By coming in and just sharing we can look at reducing the anxiety and managing the stress.
One woman came to see me who was having problems with her job and her diet and health were suffering as a result. We explored how to manage her time better and say ‘no’ sometimes. We made a weekly plan for her shopping and meals including healthier snacks. Within a few weeks she reported she was feeling better.”
Agnieszka explained how she helped a person with diabetes gain better control of their condition and high cholesterol levels. “They did not want to increase medication but to try to improve the situation through lifestyle changes. Together we looked at managing what they ate and their exercise. They did not know exactly what a high fibre and low carbohydrate diet was, so I showed them examples and we discussed shopping, meal planning and portion sizes. With clarity on how they could make the changes, regular blood tests showed they had succeeded and improved the management of their condition.”