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Mental health service doubles up GP practices supported across the Highlands

By Federica Stefani

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The team celebrating the expansion.
The team celebrating the expansion.

A national mental health charity is expanding its reach to cover new areas including West Sutherland, Badenoch and Strathspey.

Change Mental Health will support more people experiencing health and wellbeing issues through the Community Link Worker (CLW) service, as part of an expansion which will serve all GP surgeries across the Highland Health and Social Care Partnership.

Change Mental Health has been delivering the Community Link Worker service, commissioned and funded by NHS Highland, since 2021.

The service will significantly increase its reach and impact, going from serving 31 GP practices to 62.

The expansion will enable the charity to recruit additional staff to cover new areas across Highlands.

Clare Daly, area manager for North of Scotland at Change Mental Health, said: “This huge expansion will see more people supported with their health and wellbeing across Highland and the impact of the Community Link Worker service, which has already been exemplary, will be even greater over the coming years.

“We can’t wait to collaborate with more GP surgeries across Highland to ensure that people get the support they need, when they need it and in a way which works best for them.”

The Community Link Worker service follows a social prescribing model, focusing on improving health outcomes for people experiencing stressors in their lives due to social problems that could lead to poor mental and physical health.

According to the charity the latest impact statistics for the service show that 2663 referrals have been made from May 2022 to May 2024, totalling in 9471 appointments and 4929 social prescriptions.

A large percentage of referrals came from people experiencing mental health and wellbeing challenges, stress management, loneliness and social isolation.

A person who benefitted from the service said: “I am now looking to volunteer. I wouldn’t have thought of that before and feel better in myself after speaking to a Community Link Worker. It has helped me to find out about things and opened up a lot of doors for me.”

The service is entirely person-centred in its approach, with community link workers getting to know the person and their interests by building a relationship – referring them to support that will best suit their needs.

People are offered up to eight sessions and a plan will be developed during this time to help them feel a sense of achievement. Progress is discussed after each meeting with a review to determine goals, outcomes and priorities, while understanding how to further shape support around the individual.

Following a competitive tendering process, Change Mental Health were awarded the contract to continue to deliver the Community Link Worker services for at least another 3 years.

Sandra MacAllister, senior health improvement specialist, said: “Having Change Mental Health continue as the provider of the service will allow for continuity for existing practices. They bring all their experience of having delivered the service from the last 2 years to expansion to additional practices, which will be a real benefit.

“Existing practices with a CLW allocation have told us that the service has been well received by patients and many have benefitted from accessing it. Overall, most practices agreed that having the CLW service has helped save practice staff time.”

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