Project Report: The Wester Hailes Community Herbal Clinic – Integrated Herbal Healthcare in An Area of Poverty

Since July 2015, Grass Roots Remedies Herbal Medicine Co-operative have been working on and consolidating an integrated herbal healthcare model in Wester Hailes, South West Edinburgh. We want to share the model now as an inspiring example of forward thinking, collaborative responses to health inequality by the NHS and local agencies; to encourage discussion about alternative ways of working; and to open up dialogue with herbalists and practitioners in other fields interested in trying to achieve similar things across the rest of the UK. We want to welcome you to share this article if it is useful to do so, and to get in touch with questions & comments.

The Background & Context

The Wester Hailes Community Herbal Clinic was set up by Grass Roots Remedies Co-operative    (www.grassrootsremedies.co.uk), a workers’ co-op dedicated to making herbalism accessible to people who wouldn’t otherwise have access to it. Our aims are to rekindle the place of herbal medicine as People’s Medicine through community-centred health initiatives and to educate and empower people to feel more control over their own health. We do this through running this clinic, and offering free community education programmes & herb growing projects in areas of poverty, including Wester Hailes.

Wester Hailes is an inner city neighbourhood in South West Edinburgh, which is continuously ranked in the top 5% most deprived communities in Scotland. (http://simd.scot/2016/#/simd2016_5pc/BTTTTTT/14/-3.2582/55.9229/).

The city of Edinburgh is marked for its ghettoization following decisions of city planners to build large council schemes on the outskirts of the city, which remain under-resourced and lacking in many features that help to create a sense of pride of place.  As a result of social and economic deprivation, residents of Wester Hailes are disproportionately affected by health & social inequality; and unemployment, poor physical & psycho-emotional health, addiction, crime and traumatic life events are commonplace. The life expectancy in some areas of the scheme is as low as 61. This is in stark contrast to the neighbouring wealthy area of Colinton where mortality rates jump by more than 10 years.

The Wester Hailes Community Herbal Clinic is a low cost herbal medicine clinic situated in a flagship NHS & Edinburgh Council partnership building (the Wester Hailes Healthy Living Centre – WHHLC). The WHHLC was the first integrated health & social care centre to be built in Scotland under the SNP Government in 2013. It is a partnership project bringing together a wide range of services in a collaborative effort to tackle the impacts of health inequality. In a cynical light, it is a cost-saving mechanism for government & the health board, but thanks to considerable efforts by workers in the building, the WHHLC manages to bring in a healthy dose of social justice and genuine collaboration, which makes it an exciting place to work. More information about this from the viewpoint of the Medical Practice here: https://livingwellwesterhailes.wordpress.com/2015/12/23/what-is-the-living-well-wester-hailes-project/

Local residents can go to the WHHLC and have access to: local NHS services, Social Workers, Addiction & Recovery Services & community health projects which provide: food co-ops, nutrition classes, a low cost plant-based food cafe, community gardens, art therapy, support groups for women, carers & gamblers; physical activities, person-centred counselling, CBT, reflexology, aromatherapy massage, sports massage and acupuncture.

About the Community Clinic

Since September 2015 the Wester Hailes Community Herbal Clinic has also been running once a week. From the beginning our presence was welcomed by the Medical Practice and other organisations in the building. This is the only integrated herbal clinic of this kind that we know of in the UK, and is run by two fully qualified Medical Herbalists. (Keen to hear of other models if they exist, so do get in touch!) We offer full length herbal consultations to local residents for a donation of between £5 and £20 pounds (whatever they can afford), but we don’t turn anyone away for lack of funds. Herbal medicines are prescribed for free. We treat a wide range of health complaints but the demographic of our client base means that we specialise in supporting patients presenting with: anxiety, low mood, clinical depression, addiction & withdrawal, recovery from trauma & abuse, digestive issues, hormonal issues, chronic pain, auto-immune disease, cancer & bereavement. We have had excellent results so far, and the reputation of the clinic is spreading beyond our efforts of community engagement.

Our target groups are people on low incomes; people suffering from chronic conditions; people in recovery from abuse, trauma and/or substance use; refugees & asylum seekers who can’t access GP services; and people referred from our partner organisations like local GP Practices, the Health Agency, the Westerhaven Cancer support project, or Edible Estates community gardening project.

Our biggest referral partner is the Wester Hailes Medical Practice who have directed over 80 patients from their practice to us. The Medical Practice are very open to collaboration, routinely allowing our herbalists to shadow their consultations, and exchanging opinions and case notes with each other to improve patient care.  They recognise the limitations of the bio-medical model, and especially in an area with high rates of polypharmacy, are keen to make use of alternatives where possible and practicable. (see more here http://www.grassrootsremedies.co.uk/2017/02/06/working-towards-herbal-medical-collaboration-in-wester-hailes). Since the winter of 2016, we have been extending our relationship with the medical practice to training & education, and now open our clinic to medical students on placement at the GP practice one morning a month.

The clinical lead GP Dr Cairns has also organised a research project into our clinic to evaluate its impact on patient outcomes and reduced load on the GP practice. We have been working now for over one year with Dr Stefan Ecks, Medical Anthropology researcher from the University of Edinburgh who is producing a report and article for publication about this unique model.

Our model is very much based on a person-centred ethos which takes seriously people’s lived circumstances and offers them no judgement, but care, respect, and support to make autonomous choices. We aim to contribute to long term social change by providing much needed services to people who would otherwise not have access to them. As the clinic is part of an integrated health centre, we are able to refer our patients on to free counselling, food co-ops, free cooking classes, support groups, massage, free gym memberships & access to growing their own food at a community garden.

Successes over The First Two Years & Plans for the Future

So far over two years we have seen 200 patients, and had 600 repeat visits despite only being open one day a week.  We’ve not only had positive responses from the local medical practice, but have also now received referrals from three other GP practices, and have had encouraging letters back from consultants in local neurology & renal departments.  Most recently, we’ve had contact from another Medical Practice in a similar area in the North of Edinburgh who are interested in understanding more about this model and trying to create similar initiatives across town.

Outside of the clinic, our co-operative teaches workshops & courses about community-centred, bioregional herbalism. We have been heartened to find nurses, GPs and health visitors amongst our students.

As part of our ambitions to work as holistically as possible, for the last two years we have been running free community foraging walks & medicine making workshops in collaboration with local community gardens.  http://www.grassrootsremedies.co.uk/2018/01/26/closing-the-circle-local-medicine-for-local-people/

This year in 2018 we will be running an estate-wide herb growing project called CommuniTea – where we’ll be supporting community gardens, schools and individuals to grow a few crops of different herbs, and then we’ll come together to harvest them, and process them for drying to be made into blended herbal teas for free distribution around the neighbourhood.

Support Welcomed

This project runs on a combination of dedication, hard work, funding and volunteer hours. We are always looking for ways to create financial stability and sustainability, but even if we can’t find it, we’ll keep it going as long as we can. If you are able to make any contributions financial or otherwise to keep this clinic alive, we’d welcome them with open arms.

Get in Touch

We’d be happy to hear from anyone  – [email protected]

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