Elemental: What is social prescribing and how is it helping the COVID-19 pandemic?

  • Derry-based health tech start-up Elemental is now the platform of choice for over 200 digital social prescribing hubs across the UK and Ireland.

    When the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced that Covid-19 was officially a global pandemic, the company said it knew it had to respond quickly with a contingency plan for their team, customers and hundreds of thousands of people it collectively supports.

    Co-founder Jennifer Neff said: “We are seeing really effective and person centred models across the country where local authorities, clinical commissioning groups, housing associations, voluntary, community and social enterprises are working closer together than ever.

    “What’s important to them is identifying specific groups of people who need support, understanding what type of help is now out there and coordinating access to that support. They are analysing real time information around who and - most importantly - who isn't being connected to the support they need. We’re delighted that Elemental has been chosen as the digital partner for this.”

    The business was founded in 2013 by Jennifer and Leann Monk Ozgul, former community development workers.

    RELATED: Derry-based Elemental secures major UK social prescribing platform contract

    They wanted to develop technology to better connect communities and measure the impact that those connections make on the person, the community and the health and social care system; to empower people to access and engage in the many great things happening in their communities such as gardening, dance classes, debt advice and running clubs.

    They didn't know then that the term for this was called social prescribing, a movement that has been proven to increase a person’s wellbeing and reduce demand on GP practices and emergency departments.

    Co-founder Jennifer Neff

    Identifying a shift in priorities and rapidly responding

    Leann detailed how the team got together to scope and plan out how they could enhance the capabilities of their existing social prescribing platform to support customers with the mobilisation of community support plans.

    On 18 March they then tested and released Covid-19 specific enhancements, which are now freely available in use by all Elemental customers.

    Elemental’s team, like many other companies worldwide, is now working from home, but still maintains it is quickly catering to the NHS’ needs.

    “We already had the infrastructure in place for a smooth transition in the event of a situation arising that required drastic measures,” said COO, Serena Terry. “The rapidness and effectiveness of our response is testament to our incredible team.”

    RELATED: Tech Craic: Elemental Software's Jennifer Neff - How social prescribing can help during pandemic

    Elemental’s remote support solution is designed to provide teams with the technical connectivity they need during the lockdown, by enabling them to:

    ● Prioritise focus by connecting people so that they can access helpful information, services and online support.
    ● Create a live and interactive COVID-19 database of services, volunteers and information that can grow and evolve in response to the needs of the community. This can include:
    ○ Befriending services
    ○ Online home resources
    ○ Grocery collections and pharmacy delivery services
    ○ Local food bank access
    ○ NHS App Library
    ● Increase capacity to deliver on community plans by connecting commissioners, clinicians, link workers, health and community providers and citizens.
    ● Establish cohort groups and assign different levels of urgency and support needed.
    ● Run reports on the overall and specific progress being made across a number of different locations and see the effectiveness of your coordination, whilst identifying any gaps in provision.

    Co-founder Leann Monk-Ozgul

    Care Merseyside, a social prescribing charity based in Liverpool has set up a new intervention to adapt to the current crisis called ‘Phone a Friend – You’ll Never Walk Alone’.

    The organisation is asking people to call those most vulnerable in their community on a daily basis for a chat and help with any needs, such as delivering groceries.

    By using Elemental, the Care Merseyside team identified up to 300 vulnerable people and are spending this week calling them to see if they would wish to be supported by this service.

    Each caller is using Elemental to take a social isolation measurement tool, which will show a baseline to how isolated the vulnerable people are. Elemental is tracking the impact of this and the score will be reviewed in a week or two to see if the volunteer system has helped them feel less isolated.

    Care Merseyside commented: “So far we have contacted over 100 people, and what we have actually found is quite staggering; 7 in 100 people want a befriending service. This community is heavily populated by families and friends of vulnerable people, so most are lucky enough to have somebody who can help them. But they are all very appreciative of us contacting them.

    “However, we are still able to draw down data from that and show a positive outcome as a result of isolation - that people do have support.”

    Jennifer concluded: “COVID-19 is increasing the gap in health inequalities that so many of us are trying to close. Being prepared to tackle this on a local, regional and national level is what is critically important in the weeks, months and years to follow.

    “The social prescribing movement and social prescribing link workers and community and voluntary providers are fundamental to this which is why continued funding is required. It is great to see this happening in parts of the country.”

    Visit Elemental’s website here for more info.

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