Working with pharmacies to tackle loneliness

Ageing Better in Camden is one of the fourteen Big Lottery Fund Ageing Better programmes across England working together to tackle social isolation and loneliness among older people by drawing on existing skills and resources in the local community. Camden Community Connectors help Camden residents over 60 to connect with their local community by discussing their interests, finding activities that might suit them and supporting them to help others connect with their community.

In October 2015 Ageing Better in Camden commissioned thirteen pharmacies in the borough to identify older people who were lonely or isolated and refer them to Community Connectors. We want to share what we learnt with other organisations looking to do similar work.

What we learnt

In Year 1 the Pharmacy Project produced only 25 referrals. Feedback was gathered and the project was assessed and relaunched.

Following relaunch and the introduction of a scratch card, in Year 2 the project produced 100 referrals from 13 pharmacies. The amount of referrals received from Year 1 to Year 2 increased by 400% but of the total referrals received in Year 2 only 3% were successful in connecting an older client to their community. This project ended after 2 years.

Engagement levels from pharmacies were very varied. A ‘one path fits all approach’ did not work due to different management styles, available time, space and staff in individual pharmacies. The Healthy Living Project had an effect on pharmacies’ motives for involvement; it was beneficial for them to be seen as involved.  Due to the pharmacy business being competitive and challenging, the Ageing Better project was often overlooked as an ‘add on’. Some pharmacies got large amounts of custom from Camden hospitals meaning that many ineligible out-of-borough older people were referred to Community Connectors.

 Due to time constraints, the majority of pharmacies gave customers scratch cards rather than having a longer conversation and completing a referral form together. On the scratch card, people did not always include their contact details making it impossible for Community Connectors to contact them.

 The Ageing Better in Camden message often got lost within pharmacies as materials were competing for space alongside a number of other relevant leaflets. However, introducing Ageing Better in Camden branded boxes enabled pharmacy staff to start conversations about social isolation and loneliness.

 Many customers took leaflets and information for friends or families, rather than associating the project with themselves. People were reluctant to discuss personal issues or fill in a scratch card in a shop environment and with strangers. Those that did want to discuss issues and problems often needed signposting to other areas for support.

 What we recommend

 Local pharmacies are an important part of the local community as both a business and the community face of the health system.  They work as social connectors at a community level with local community groups and centres.  However, trying to commission social connection at a borough level by mirroring health service commissioning of interventions such as smoking cessation, ignored the primary rationale of pharmacies as being a healthcare providers, and was not successful.

Local community groups and centres should try to build links with pharmacies on an individual level to promote health living activities and to encourage a free flow of opportunities within the local community from flu jabs to Tai Chi classes. Rolling out social connection pharmacies at a borough level would require a development worker to build the relationships between community groups and their individual local pharmacies.

If you’d like to find out more, read the full report, or ask any questions, we are keen to hear from you. Contact Ageing Better in Camden or follow us on Twitter to find out what we’re learning.