(Around Christmas 2019)
The quietly spoken patient sitting in front of me had various symptoms, which had not been solved by previous consultations or recent blood test results. As I sat watching her speak the problem dawned on me and I gently asked “are you hungry?” My patient clearly did not want to admit it, but that was exactly the problem. It seems an innocuous enough event, assessing a patient and arriving at a diagnosis, but this moment was a turning point in my attitude towards both my job and the community where I live and work.
In the days and weeks that followed, I was instrumental in establishing a food bank in the area. This is now fully operational and is a lifeline to many people in the community.
However my concerns went beyond food poverty. As I spent time talking to the visitors who used the food bank each week, I soon realised that these were not people who were known to us at the local GP surgery. In fact after 7 years of working in the village, I had never even met some of them. I learnt so much from them as we spoke. They opened up to me about a variety of health and social problems, that I would never have known about if I was still in my office in the Medical Centre. Eventually the realisation dawned, that we (health professionals) are sitting on resources that people badly needed, but would never come and ask for. We are very keen to encourage autonomy and self-care in our community, but in reality we have some how kept our cards too close and made ourselves a key player in holding onto the information which can help the most vulnerable.
What was required was a simple way for people to have easy access to what we refer to as “Social Prescribing” information. I scoured the internet and asked local prescribers and medics, but there was no easily accessible source of information that I could pass on. There were paper lists of local groups. There was an array of web sites offering help. There was even a local social prescribing directory, but it was out of date, with almost no information available relating to our area. Essentially, there was no central source of information.
The idea of Treacle was formed just as national lockdown was announced, and its aim changed overnight. Suddenly, there were no local walking groups, Mum and toddler sessions or mental health support cafes. They had been replaced with brand new services springing up that helped with issues such as isolation, or financial hardship caused by Covid 19. This made helping our patients even more complex, clinicians could not keep up with who could get help where, and there was no central way to store and disseminate the information we needed.
The challenges in getting funding, finding a web builder and sourcing information, also became more challenging over night. Not to mention suddenly having 2 primary school children at home 24/7, so the time I had planned to spend on this project, was now taken up with home schooling and snack making.
The time, the funding, the web builder and the ideas all came together over the weeks of March, April and May 2020. It has been a steep learning curve, but we have at last gone live. Its strange, but over the last few months I have imagined that going live would be the end of this journey. Now we are here it feels like just the beginning, and I am excited about what Treacle can achieve.