Friendship at your fingertips with Cornwall’s new Help@Hand app

A newly developed app being used by GPs in Cornwall is helping to connect socially isolated patients with online workshops and support groups.

The Help@Hand app acts as a directory of events, support groups, workshops and resources which GPs can socially prescribe to their patients. Throughout the coronavirus lockdown health and wellbeing initiatives have been promoted on the platform including; free remote yoga classes, online weigh – in sessions, bereavement networks and even a virtual friendship café.

Dr Stewart Smith, social prescribing lead and Primary Care Network clinical director, is based at St Austell Healthcare, which helped develop the app and was the first health practice in Cornwall, and the UK, to adopt the platform.

Stewart said: “Help@hand is a wonderful way to connect people with wellbeing resources that are bespoke to their community and to their individual needs.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic the app has helped transform our social prescribing offer into a virtual service, it has aided people to self-manage their own health and wellbeing and stay connected with their community during these most challenging of times. Feedback from patients and colleagues alike has been excellent. The really great thing about this piece of e-health technology is that it is owned and managed at a local level by teams who understand and are invested in their community's health.”

Social prescribing is used by GPs and mental health clinicians to help people overcome mental health illnesses like depression and anxiety, by getting people outdoors, involved in the community and meeting new people.

Abi Channing, a social prescriber based at Fowey River Practice, believes having an app that collates many of the local services at the touch of a mobile phone or computer has been a huge help during the coronavirus pandemic.

Abi said the app provided invaluable help to one mum in particular.

She said: “I was asked to contact a mum to see if there was any support that we could offer her regarding shopping and activities for the children during the home schooling of lockdown. She was struggling to get to the shops with the children in tow and had no other childcare to go alone.

“I was able to advise her of a new service recently added to the app, a local, voluntary scheme whereby her shopping could be collected by one of the volunteers and delivered to her doorstep. The app also helped her to find some new activities to do with the children whilst they were at home during the lockdown.”

Since St Austell Healthcare’s involvement a further 12 surgeries have started using the app, which was developed in Cornwall. It has been met with such welcome that a further 10 surgeries in the county are planning to adopt it in coming weeks. Its developers predict there to be 184,000 patients benefiting from the app so far, with this increasing to over 200,000 in the near future.

Andrew Kellard, managing director of the design consultancy AKA, led the team developing the app.

He said of the Help@Hand launch: “We planned to release the app the week the national lockdown came into force and so began a frantic reconfiguration to comply with the new government measures. However, we’re now thankful we chose to launch that week as it gave some GP’s a way to socially prescribe activities to their shielding patients when they may not have been able to otherwise."

The app has been praised by local clinicians for its easy usability and sensitive search term recognition making it simple for patients to search for a service recommended to them by their GP, which can all too often be forgotten after an appointment.

If a patient’s surgery is using Help@Hand they can download it free of charge on the Android and Apple app stores as well as a desktop version which users can find online. Find out more here.