The report supports the evidence about the benefits of general practices becoming more community facing and the untapped mutual benefits for citizens and staff when vital sources of support in communities, such as primary care, the third sector and local organisations, strengthen their connections.
The four practices involved in the project, were based in Nairn, Edinburgh, Dundee and Kinross. Building local relationships, mapping local assets and signposting to sources of support were integral parts of the project. An important aim was to test the feasibility of embedding ‘A Local Information System for Scotland’ (ALISS) into the four practice sites, to enable quick access to information and signposting during consultations. (ALISS is an innovative practical tool, which makes it possible to co-produce content and pool knowledge of formal and informal resources).
The project identified three interconnected enablers of improving links in primary care: mapping assets as a way to strengthen local relationships and share knowledge of local resources, using ALISS in general practice, and adopting a links worker approach. The project achieved its aim of co-producing an online tool (ALISS) for general practice and it was significant that by the end of the project three out of four practices had some form of links working, the practice without a links worker model was located in the least deprived area.
Mapping local assets was found to be an extremely effective method of getting local people together, strengthening local relationships and sharing knowledge. Practice staff readily engaged in this and reported the benefits of meeting providers of support outside the health centre, seeing the local “bigger picture” and having an opportunity to pool local resources. However, even with financial support provided by the project, enthusiastic practice staff struggled to find time to develop local relationships and change working patterns.
It was noted that receiving feedback on the outcome of signposting is essential – currently there is no system for staff to know if someone attended a resource, and if they did was it helpful. Receiving this feedback is important in developing trust, encouraging joint working and further signposting which, in turn, supports local organisations. The project found that there is huge untapped mutual benefit in linking the health promoting role of staff working outside the usual health buildings, for example in libraries, schools, police, fire service, Third Sector and other local services.
The report reflects that a vital enabler of improvement in primary care is simply creating time for staff to think and to develop local relationships. The report includes recommendations that all general practices in Scotland should have an opportunity to access ALISS through their primary care systems and that plans for health and social care integration, person centred ehealth and public service reform should include reference to asset mapping and developing two-way communication systems between general practice and non NHS organisations.
The full report can be read here.