Wandsworth resident June said she has “regained control of her life” after living with chronic pain, thanks to a pilot health project that takes social prescribing services into hospitals.
June’s problems with pain started when she was injured in a freak accident on her 70th birthday. “I was left in excruciating pain running from my head to my feet and had tried everything to help after being diagnosed with fibromyalgia,” she said. “I was stressed at home over house repairs, pain and was gaining weight.”
Seeing my health and wellbeing coach Sam has totally changed my life and has given me a sense of self-worth
June (below) was referred to the chronic pain service at St George’s which offers support from the Chronic Pain Self-Management Team including medical consultants, physiotherapists, clinical nurse specialists and psychologists and then to the pilot health project for support.
“Seeing my health and wellbeing coach Sam (main picture) has totally changed my life and has given me a sense of self-worth when I found it hard to ask for help. He has given me a mechanism to take control of my life and made a huge difference to my life. Through our regular motivational coaching sessions. I have learnt I don’t always have to say yes when asked to help people. It has made me take a step back and take time before I commit myself to extra tasks.”
The initiative has brought the benefits of social prescribing, widely offered at GP practices, to hospitals too. The service connects people to community support and health and wellbeing coaching, improving care for those living in chronic pain. People being treated at St George’s and Epsom and St Helier hospitals are now being offered the new approach as an additional treatment option.
Social prescribing and health and wellbeing coaches address lifestyles issues which may have a profound effect on people’s physical health and wellbeing such as dietary concerns, reduced physical activity, loneliness, isolation or debt problems. The coaches are new kinds of healthcare professionals who address the social factors that influence health.
Often, hospital pain clinics will have exhausted medical options such as medication or procedures.”
Health and wellbeing coach Sam helps people on the pilot manage their pain by offering people a programme of regular appointments to understand how to change their lives for the better. For example, someone might be referred to community organisations running social activities to gain confidence.
Chronic (or persistent) pain—pain that has lasted for more than three months—affects up to half of the UK population and has an impact on people’s ability to work, their social lives and their emotional wellbeing.
Medical management for chronic pain often does not lead to complete pain relief. Dr Mohan Sekeram (above), Merton GP and South West London personalised care lead explained: “Often, hospital pain clinics will have exhausted medical options such as medication or procedures. However, many of the people suffering with this kind of pain would benefit from a more holistic approach – because often your mental and physical health are so closely linked.”
Currently, chronic pain services at St George’s and Epsom and St Helier Hospitals offer input from a range of health professionals including medical consultants, physiotherapists, clinical nurse specialists and psychologists.
Evidence suggests that people who receive support through social prescribing or health and wellbeing coaching are less likely to need to visit a GP or attend A&E.
“When I first met my coach, I was downtrodden and felt sorry for myself, but Sam was brilliant.”
Another pilot success story, Rebecca, was referred to the pilot after recovering from cancer but was left with debilitating leg pain and weakness. She said:
“When I first met my coach, I was downtrodden and felt sorry for myself, but Sam was brilliant.
I was feeling low and even getting dressed was quite difficult. One of my aims was to make a routine for my days and over time I am becoming stronger. It was not easy and Sam would help me to make achievable goals. When you are in a rut you need someone to help you.”
Dr Sekeram added: “After seeing social prescribing work successfully in primary care for five years, I am excited to be able to expand it, to give people being cared for in hospital a chance to experience these same benefits. Directing people to the right support offers great potential to lift pressures on health services and improve the health and wellbeing of this group of patients.”
Early results from this pilot due to end later this year demonstrate that adding social prescribing and health and wellbeing coaching interventions improve overall pain management and reduce the need for people to be re-referred to hospital based chronic pain services.