Bronagh Cooper, Social Prescribing Link Worker Champion in Northern Ireland has helped over 365 clients this year.
A young Derry woman who has changed the lives of hundreds of people with her community work has been appointed the Northern Ireland Champion of The National Association of Link Workers.
Bronagh Cooper has worked in the community for over 10 years and has been working as a SPRING Social Prescriber with Bogside and Brandywell Health Forum since its launch in July 2018.
She has changed the lives of hundreds of people within the community, helping to tackle the issues of mental health and depression.
SPRING social prescribing is a new initiative which takes a holistic approach and works with individuals offering more than medicine.
Social prescribing creates a link between the health service and the community and enables a GP or primary health care professional to refer patients who suffer from social isolation, low mood, mild depression, chronic pain, long term conditions or physical inactivity to community support programmes and activities.
Bronagh is the SPRING social prescribing co-ordinator for the Western Health and Social Care Trust area, and in the last year alone, has received 365 referrals from people in Derry on the SPRING Social Prescribing Programme.
Social prescribing is rolled out across Britain and Ireland, and Bronagh underwent a rigorous interview and skills test to be appointed the North's Social Prescribing Link Worker Champion.
She said: “Becoming a champion means my role is to raise the profile of SPRING Social Prescribing and that everyone in the community recognises it as a good model of practice. We also want to ensure that social prescribing is recognised as a health profession, like social work and other health professionals are within the health services, and funded by the Health Service.”
Social prescribing is available to anyone over 18-years-old and has been adopted as a good model of practice by GPs across Northern Ireland.
The £3.5 million SPRING Social Prescribing project is funded by the National Lottery Community Fund and Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA). The health project aims to reduce pressure on GPs while improving the health and wellbeing of patients across Northern Ireland.
Bronagh added: “Social prescribing encourages the social model of health care. If an individual goes to their GP with symptoms, like depression or chronic pain, the GP will then give them a social prescription.
“That is where I come in as a social prescriber. It is my role to meet with the individual and get to the bottom of what the cause is. GPs only give medication to treat someone with anxiety, but my role is to find out what the root cause of the anxiety is and help address that.
“The aim is to reduce the amount of medication a person is on and to reduce the number of visits required to the GP practice.
“I find a lot of joy in my work. My purpose is to guide people to programmes to help improve their health. For example, I had a client, a young man in his 30’s. He had no friends or family for support and was regularly visiting his GP, being treated for depression. His GP, gave him a social prescription and I met with him and realised the root cause of his depression was social isolation.
“We co-created a support programme of things he would enjoy. I am there to guide him and accompany him to his first few classes if need be, giving encouragement and support. He has gone from sitting at home alone all day to being out of the house five days a week attending his local men’s shed, cooking classes, exercise programmes and counselling. He has gone from having no interaction with anyone, to creating a community support network and is much happier.
“I have older clients who may have been bereaved, and lost their sense of self or clients with chronic pain or long term health conditions.
“Social prescribing is about looking at the needs of the individual and looking at the needs of the community and putting those support programmes in place. For example, we have set up two chronic pain supwWalking group. The idea grew from a girl in her 20’s who wanted to exercise but didn’t want to be seen. I had done the Camino and found great peace walking in nature. I wanted people to experience the same peace so we put the nature group in place and go on different walks each month and then have some tea and buns in a café afterwards,” said Bronagh.
The nature walking group is open to the whole community, as is all of the support programmes established by SPRING Social Prescribing.
“The idea is to identify the need within the community. People tell us what they need and we put that support in place. We don’t isolate our programmes, they are open to the whole community and to anyone who feels they would benefit,” explained Bronagh.
“I have found that people know they need help, but they don’t know where or how to get it. My role, and the role of SPRING Social Prescribing is to guide them to that help,” added Bronagh.
To find out more about SPRING Social Prescribing in your area log on to https://www.springsp.org/
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