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Creating a healthier and happier community

Features | Published:

IN 1999, Health Information Guernsey was founded as a charity to provide free, confidential and impartial information on health and disabilities for the bailiwick. Eleven years later it received the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service.

Bella Farrell, CEO of health Connections. (26101160)

In 2017, Bella Farrell joined HIG.

After the strategic review of local health care policy, HIG aligned itself to the new model of health care and provision called the Partnership of Purpose, a 10-year plan that will build on the assets found in the community and mobilise individuals, associations and institutions to come together to develop their strengths.

‘I put together a business plan which, in a nutshell, mapped all the assets into one place – an online directory,’ said Bella. ‘I called it the “directory to doorstep” model. It came to me as I was running through Talbot Valley.’

In 2018 HIG became Health Connections LBG.

‘We honour our predecessors at HIG and The Health Information Exchange for their dedication and support over the years,’ said Bella.

The online directory is simple to use and covers all aspects of health matters – from arthritis and autism to weight management and wellbeing.

For an example, Bella used her laptop to tap in healthconnections.gg.

‘OK, say you wanted to find out about motor neurone disease – here’s the section, tap on that, and not only does it include a link to the charity Guernsey Motor Neurone LBG, with email, telephone number, address and a list of services, but also links to other useful groups and professionals.’

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These included Helen Spafford, art psychotherapist, Guernsey Cheshire Home, Guernsey Therapy Group and Guernsey Disability Group. It also provides a link to send your feedback as to whether you found the page useful and provision to add your own organisation.

Although the directory is at HC’s heart, the service doesn’t stop there. Since its formation HC has built up an ever-growing network of community connectors.

‘We give them two hours of training to become professional signposters. They can then signpost family, friends, neighbours, colleagues and sometimes strangers to the HC online directory and to the one-to-one support, coaching and advocacy offered by the HC team. They can also signpost people directly to activities, clubs, groups and services that will support their health and wellbeing in the community.

‘We aim to train 100 community connectors a year. We have 56 already since training started at the beginning of May. We aim to train eight to 10 a month.’

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After attending the Second International Social Prescribing Network Conference in London in July, the HC team were pleased to learn that it was up to date with the latest research and thinking on the implementation and practice of social prescribing.

‘Social prescribing enables GPs and other frontline health care professionals to refer patients to a link worker to find social, emotional and practical solutions to improve their health and wellbeing.’

HC calls these ‘link workers’ health connectors.

‘They can connect people to community groups such as Men’s Shed, gardening clubs and art therapy classes.

‘Since September, through the Partnership of Purpose between HC and HSC Public Health, funding from the Guernsey Community Foundation has enabled us to appoint the bailiwick’s first-ever social prescribing commissioning manager, Melissa Mitchell. She is seconded to HSC and will roll out quality, evidence-based social prescribing across the Bailiwick.’

As well as Melissa, HC has a strong team of experienced members. As a health trainer for HSC, lead community and health connector Debbie Aldous has brought skills and experience to HC since the beginning of its transformation from HIG. She has led the creation of the online directory, mapping local support and activities.

Arabella Fuller is the directory co-ordinator.

‘Arabella undertook the community connector and advocacy training with the HC team and became a volunteer for the charity,’ said Bella. ‘We have 10 hours’ worth of updating a week and Arabella keeps it all up to date.’

Bella herself has 30 years’ experience, beginning her career in health as a nurse and midwife. She also holds an MA in health management and is an accredited executive, resilience and systemic team leadership coach.

Volunteers are also one of HC’s key strengths.

‘Our Voluntary Community Transport Service provides a safe, reliable and affordable transport service to people who have genuine transport difficulties,’ said Bella. ‘We have 19 voluntary car drivers and we’ve been gifted an eight-seater minibus by Age Concern. We run approximately 115 journeys a week so far and have 10 new referrals a week, many over 85. Most of our drivers are over 70. These are not just journeys to medical appointments but also for health and wellbeing connections.’

HC’s innovative approach even extends to its charity shop on the Bridge.

‘It’s the one that’s painted orange. Previously volunteers working in the shop were discovering that customers were saying prices were too high. So I said “Take the prices off”. people can make their own donations. Profits are up by 39%.

‘The items for sale in the shop are arranged in themes which reflect a happier and healthier lifestyle, such as music, reading, cookery, baking, gardening and outdoor and sporting activities. The shop also encourages green fingers and house plants are for sale by Auburn Gardens, who donate 25% of their sales to HC.’

Coming soon will be Talking Cafes, which will enable people to make connections and access support and respite in local cafes adopting the Health Connections Cafe Charter, and Time Bank, where HC volunteers and staff can trade up to three hours of their time per week.

As for off-island support, the HC website has a list of hospitals and access to one-to-one support to people in the bailiwick going to the UK for treatment or care.

HC can send you information about the hospital you will be going to and you can download ‘hospital packs’. It also includes information for relatives accompanying you, such as nearby accommodation and public transport.

At the launch of HC last year, Health Connections Mendip from Somerset gave a presentation. Bella and her team were impressed to learn some interesting facts.

‘It was so inspiring. Because of HC Mendip, the operational costs at the local hospital had decreased by 19%. Financially, operational costs of health care in the bailiwick could also slow down by encouraging people to find out and take responsibility for managing their own health and wellbeing.’

With so much achieved in so short a time, it’s no surprise that HC wants to spread the good news. Tonight the charity is holding A Celebration of Our First Year’s Achievements with guest speaker Roger Allsopp.

‘I have so much respect for Roger,’ said Bella.

‘He’s made a profound impact in medical research and care – and he totally gets social care. He’s also got a new name for retirement – “renaissement” – where we can embrace longevity and become strong contributors to the community, where people are equipped with the information and support to make decisions for themselves to have a healthier and happier life.’

. A Celebration of Our First Year’s Achievements is at Les Cotils’ Harry Bound Room tonight at 6.30pm. RSVP bella@healthconnections.gg.

To find out more about the charity, visit healthconnections.gg.

Shaun Shackleton

By Shaun Shackleton
Features reporter

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