A campaign has been launched across Merthyr Tydfil and Rhondda Cynon Taf to let people know what healthcare services are available in their local community.
The #YourLocalTeam initiative from Cwm Taf University Health Board highlights the range of professionals who can help patients, without a need to go to the doctor first.
Primary care is changing, with different roles and services now available to support GPs. These include physiotherapists, wellbeing coordinators, community pharmacists, occupational therapists, dentists, advanced nurse practitioners and GP support officers, who are often best placed to help with issues such as stress, anxiety, back pain, housing matters or family problems.
In Cwm Taf there are four primary care ‘clusters’ covering Taff Ely, Rhondda, Cynon Valley and Merthyr Tydfil. Each consists of a range of health and social care practitioners all working together to provide the right care and support for local patients.
The clusters are able to employ a range of primary care health professionals in new ways to make a real difference to people in their community.
Sarah Bradley, Cwm Taf head of primary care, said: “There are more opportunities than ever before for people to seek advice and treatment to help them improve their health, make healthy choices and avoid being unwell. In Cwm Taf we have four primary care clusters that consist of a range of health and social care providers, working together to develop services in line with local need.
“They have introduced new roles such as pharmacists, physiotherapists, paramedics, occupational therapists, health and wellbeing workers and support officers, to develop a multi-disciplinary and integrated approach. We want to ensure that as many people as possible know what local healthcare is now available in their community.”
Lucy Foster is a wellbeing community coordinator supporting 13 GP practices in Rhondda. She works with people facing all kinds of wellbeing and social issues, from problems with their housing and debt to stress, anxiety and loneliness. Often, the people she helps have made an appointment to see their GP to deal with symptoms, but Lucy’s role is to deal first with the cause – which, in turn often eliminates the need to see a doctor at all.
Lucy said: “It is sad to say that I’m coming across such sad stories, but the best thing about this job is that I’m able to help. By having that friendly face just to chat to, we’re able to put the right people all around you to make you feel you’re not alone; there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Occupational therapist Alex Gigg works as part of a ‘virtual ward’ in Cynon Valley and aims to enable people starting to experience difficulties to stay in their own homes. “My role is about supporting people to live at home independently and trying to enhance their ability to cope at home as best as possible,” he said.
Daniel Thorne is one of six GP support officers working in Merthyr Tydfil to help patients and ease doctors’ waiting times. The roles were created to support patients who will often make an appointment with their GP to discuss a range of social issues. The support officers help in practical ways, such as setting up a package of care or helping with benefits, as well as signposting to health partners and a range of other services.
“When you see someone three or four weeks down the line and you see their attitude or their behaviour changing, and they are starting to feel a little bit better about themselves and make progress, that’s what it’s all about for me,” he said.
Sian Rees is an advanced nurse practitioner who uses her wealth of experience and an ability to prescribe and examine to help patients with a wide range of conditions and symptoms. “People find it quite easy to talk to me about things and often the appointment ends up longer than it would have been!” said Sian. “They’ll come in and go through a full consultation, and right at the end they’ll go ‘Oh, by the way!’ And that actual problem is often more serious than the one they’ve come in with, so then you can sort that out for them as well.”
Merthyr-based optometrist Roseanne Gill is another primary care professional taking pressure away from GPs. “We offer the Welsh Eye Care Service, so if someone comes in with a problem such as sudden loss of vision, flashing lights, floating bits or double vision, we’re able within 24 hours to provide them with a free of charge assessment to be able to hopefully diagnose and manage them,” she said. “But I find that we help people the most with the low vision assessments, actually. People say, ‘Oh, I can read again!’ when they finally have a magnifier and you get quite a warming feeling when someone whose eyesight is very poor can suddenly read a newspaper title!”
Dentist Rob Davies’ practice, which works in partnership with a range of other services in Merthyr Tydfil, has become ‘part and parcel’ of the community it serves. “We provide a wide range of services within primary care and there’s also a secondary care referral aspect, so we see people from the cradle to the grave – from very young babies to the elderly,” he said. “A lot of the patients are not only patients, they know us and we’re friends. We have that kind of relationship and are able to give just that little bit more than the clinical care.”
Dr Shallini Subbu is the clinical lead of Cwm Taf’s out of hours GP service, based at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital in Llantrisant. Clinicians, including GPs and advanced nurse practitioners, see patients in consultation centres and in their homes where appropriate. “We are there to provide advice and reassurance and when you need to be seen urgently you shall be,” she said.
When patient Alison was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at the age of just 38, the treatment she received was mainly at the hospital. But now, with many changes in primary care, she’s able to pop to her GP surgery to see an advanced nurse practitioner. “You feel as though you can just tell them anything; this is what they’re here for,” she said. “They’re understanding, helpful, reassuring and they just help in so many ways,” she said.”
Currently, the range of roles varies in each of the four areas, but the cluster model means that services are continually being rolled out across all communities and improving patient choice.