Voluntary Action Camden

Case study

Swiss Cottage GP Practice
Using Volunteer Health Advocates in GP Practices to Signpost Patients to Local Services

The Community Health Advocates project is part of VAC’s Health Inequalities work to address issues which contribute to poor health outcomes for Camden residents. VAC recruits and trains local people to volunteer in Camden GP practices. These Community Health Advocates promote community based services and activities that contribute to a healthier lifestyle.

Anna Suarez, Practice Manager at Swiss Cottage Communtiy Centre, talks to VAC about how the project is going at Swiss Cottage.

We’ve been very happy. VAC provides an excellent service for us in signposting patients to the correct path. It’s really excellent.

Q. How did you get involved with the health Advocate project?

We were approached by VAC and we told her we were very interested in trying it out. Overall we’ve been very happy, they provide an excellent service for us in signposting patients to the correct path. It’s really excellent.

Q. Did you think it is fulfilling a need?

Yes, there was a need. Our reception staff didn’t have enough time or knowledge to cover this area. We’ve had two really excellent health advocates who spend time with the patient who needs the time to ask their questions and I know the two health advocates we have now if they don’t have the information they will find out and get back to that patient. It is an excellent service.

Q. What difference has it made for you and the staff here?

A lot. It’s helped the reception staff in that it’s taken away that work so that they can do other bits and pieces because our health advocates are dealing with those patients and advising those patients. That’s really important, making them aware of things that are happening in the area and the locality that we weren’t aware of.

We’ve had two Health advocates now on a Tuesday and Thursday. And they always have patience with the patients. They always have someone coming in and asking – even non patients – for the health advocates. A patient here is coming in with somebody for support from one of our health advocates.

I’ve had people come in when a health advocate has been on leave wanting to see her when she hasn’t been here. So people are expecting that service now. People have been referred to swimming for instance. That’s something the practice hasn’t been able to provide. And it also promotes our in-house services, they’ve been promoting the flu jabs and things like that so it really helps us. Our health advocates both work on their own initiative on things like that.

Q. One thing I heard about from the health advocates is that the service relieves doctors and staff from the burden of those patients who might have an ailment but also just want to have a chat?

Yes that is a huge relief. These patients would take doctor’s time and staff time. We try to help those patients out and have time for them but we can’t dedicate half an hour, we just don’t have the time. But the health advocates will sit there and talk to the patient and will find out about them and say look there are other things you could do. You don’t have to be lonely.

Q. Some surgeries have been reluctant to sign up to the project. Why do you think that is?

I have no idea. Maybe they think it’s going to take some of their time or they don’t have the capacity. We’ve got a big waiting area and can manage this kind of thing. I’d recommend any surgery go for this, it’s really been good for us. I’m really happy with it. And anything new that we have – for example we’re going to be having a Citizen’s Advice Buearu and the Health Advocates will promote that to our patients as well, so it’s really good. It’s another way that we can get the word out too.

I’m very happy we went for it. Our health advocates are an absolute delight. They get so many people coming into see them. They’ve got plenty of time for patients and it just works. We think it is the best thing.