When we hear that only 20% of our health needs can be met by medical interventions it’s hard to imagine why we don’t invest our time and money more heartily in finding and fixing the other 80%.

I’ve recently been part of the NHS England Population Health Management Development Programme in Lancashire and South Cumbria which has helped us truly find the people who need the most support.

Working with partners across the council, NHS and third sector, expert data analysts were able to deep dive linked datasets in new ways to find people at rising and high risk and cost. The data looked at people who had seen a GP five times or more a year in the last three years, who lived in multi-occupancy housing and also had depression as they were using healthcare services more than others.

Why did these people need so much help and what more could we do?

A lot of work went on behind the scenes to get to this point – but my role became key once we started to think about more suitable interventions for these clients.

Together we narrowed down a list of 41 patients in three GP surgeries for me to connect with. Whereas the GP can only offer them ten minutes I can offer them up to two hours to talk informally about whatever they want to discuss.  We met at their homes or in coffee shops, wherever they felt comfortable, and talked about anything and everything until I built up a picture of what might help this person reconnect with their passions, help them make a change, improve their lives and hopefully relieve some of their depression.

One chap for example had multiple issues, depression, diabetes, memory loss, a cluttered home, limited mobility and family problems. The problems had all made each other worse starting with his house which was damp and cold and made him feel ill and less likely to want to go out. So I helped him fill out his council application and gave him a hand clearer stuff out to give him more space. The fire brigade also visited to check his house was safe and his alarms up to date giving him peace of mind.

I put him in touch with local employment services which could help him fulfil his wish to get back to work eventually and also referred him to the memory clinic for an assessment to see what might be causing some of his confusion. Afterwards, he was very pleased because he had limited help from family and friends but was able to begin addressing some of his problems – none of which were easily addressed in a ten minute GP appointment. He has even begun to slowly reconnect with his family which out of everything is probably of greatest delight to him.

This is just one story of many – alcohol, drugs, housing problems, anti-social neighbours, pollution and a lack of social interactions play a huge part in many of my clients’ lives. Guess what? These issues can easily result in depression.

While many of my clients still have a long way to go, I’ve learnt it’s often a friendly smile and helping hand which can day by day start to untangle some of the reasons for their depression, unhappiness and isolation.

Heard of personalised care? It might seem like a lot of work but if the alternative is to watch people deteriorate and end up in acute care settings, a cup of coffee, a listening ear and someone well connected to solutions could just be the start of something special.

Helen Jenkins, Health and Wellbeing Support Worker- NHS Central West Neighbourhood Team

This blog also appears on the National Voices website.