timer 4 mins
Building a GP Community
An Entrancing Welcome
Tucked in behind reception, encircled by the wings of NHS buildings, is a magical community garden.
Four large beds are a mix of edibles like tomato plants, squash, and strawberries, shade-loving flowering plants like rudbeckia, some dahlias, and larger shrubs and climbers to provide privacy and definition. Two adolescent copper beech trees spring out of the ground, their canopies sheltering a collection of tables and chairs to picnic at or plan on. Found and gifted foldaway chairs, tubs, containers and gardening paraphernalia line the sides of the courtyard. I notice a hand-written call out for a welder chalked on a little noticeboard.
This is the Caversham Group Practice in Kentish Town and I am here visiting Dr Jane Myat to find out more about her ideas for social prescribing and community-based healthcare.
As a patient with an incurable health condition, I have found myself spending a lot of time in meetings as a patient representative. When I mention my enjoyment of policy work to Dr Myat, she speaks gently about how important that is, but how disconnected it can be from the resulting changes in people’s lives.
We share an interest in crafting and making things, we both have allotments and enjoy life that’s rooted in the soil and what we can do with our hands. It makes sense then that we would also share an interest in changing people’s experiences on a practical everyday level, as well as having those all important policy conversations...
Jane and I met as participants in an exhibition called “Spoons are Good for You” about how spooncarving can be good for mental, physical, social and emotional health and wellbeing. We both carve, on and off, and enjoy being part of the community of green woodworkers that is springing up around the world.
As we sit in the sunshine with cups of tea, she tells me about the connections she has forged with the Lambeth GP Practice Food Co-op, Park-run, the Transition Network, and seeking out existing movements to link into.
Reflections on Improvements
We eat lunch together and alongside my food I devour a long list of book and essay recommendations, with a particular focus on the concept of kindness.
Jane recognises that kindness is underestimated and missing from the pathways of so many NHS patients, who spend most of their time battling against a system designed to keep them out and away from the services they are looking to benefit from.
Her attempts to shift the balance, creating appropriate but porous boundaries, have been met with some resistance. We talk about how negative reactions can provide check points, enable re-assessment, and challenge in a productive way.
After lunch I stay for the “crafternoon” and chat to patients over tea, cake, and piles of fabric scraps and craft supplies in the waiting room. This is another of Dr Myat’s initiatives to help people to connect to one another and to bring the community in through the doors of her workplace.
Jane clearly enjoys this work - she is here on Friday during a sabbatical, talking to me about these simple innovations, and disappearing every now and then to chat to a patient or staff member who needs a bit of extra help and support.
Before she met me outside the building, she’d already given a flu jab to a patient who really didn’t need to wait to see one of her busy team members! As we walk around the corner to the local health food shop for lunch, she is stopped many times by people who want to smile and say hello.
I am reminded of my own GP, who is enthusiastic and positive, with the spring of youth in his step. He spends so long with his patients that you could be waiting for over an hour to see him and tells me that his evenings are spent doing home visits. His reception staff are dragon-like, understandably protective of this generous man, bringing him tea and biscuits to keep his energy up and stave off the burnout that they probably fear for him... I wonder whether any of them might be interested in leading a crafternoon, starting a community gardening group, or signing up for park-run?
Putting Learning into Practice
It seems to me that Dr Myat’s changes are deceptively simple ones. Her advice is to start small, to seek out people who are doing similar projects, to keep showing up, and to bring food... We nod and smile in agreement that it is very hard for people to resist tea and cake!
Emma Robertson has secondary breast cancer, a treatable but not curable disease. Emma campaigned with Just Treatment for others to be given NHS access to the CDK4/6 inhibitor Palbociclib. She was interviewed by Adrian Goldberg for BBC Radio’s “5 Live Investigates” programme about her campaign and has subsequently been asked to speak at various events, including the “Challenges to Preventing Cancer Cure” conference at The Francis Crick Institute in March 2019.
She lives on a one hundred and twenty year old narrowboat in West London with her husband and their cat and has recently taken up beekeeping.
(“Spoons are Good for You” will be showing at the Salthouse Gallery, Norway Square, St Ives, 19-25 October 2019)
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