SANDWELL’S hospital trust’s “unique” befriending service collaboration with the British Red Cross has been hailed as a “brilliant idea” by one of its users.

Two support workers from the Red Cross are visiting patients at home following their discharge from Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust, and offering them a befriending service, as well as carrying out essential errands such as shopping and collecting prescriptions.

Graham Harrison, of Oldbury, is one of the patients who use the service.

The 76-year-old was discharged from Sandwell Hospital in October after having a stroke and since then has been regularly visited by Pauline Nettleford, one of the support workers.

“It’s been an absolutely fantastic service,” Graham said. “When I came out of hospital, I couldn’t do anything. I had a lot of help from the nurses and physiotherapists, but also from Pauline too.

“She has assisted me in many ways. Ways that have surprised me. She’s offered to go shopping for me, accompany me to hospital appointments, take my dog for a walk – and even take me for a walk.

“She’ll come over and sit and chat to me but do things, like make me a drink or help with light housework.

“Since I was discharged, I have come on leaps and bounds. Just a few days ago I was slurring my words and talking out the side of my mouth. And I struggled with getting around.

“But now I am talking properly and can move around the house.”

The former karate instructor added: “I think the partnership is a brilliant idea. It’s been great for me and other people who are a lot worse off than I am.”

The initiative, which has been funded by imaging company Canon as part of its social responsibility policy, helps those who are at risk of being readmitted to hospital and it ensures that people can often remain in their own homes.

The 18-month project pays for both the support worker roles and a service coordinator, with all three based at Sandwell Hospital.

They work alongside the communities and therapies team who will identify patients in need of extra support.

Sandra Kennelly, clinical team leader for primary care, community and therapies at the trust, said: “We offer an integrated service called iCares, which involves a team of nurses, therapists and support workers going out to see patients in the community who require rehabilitation or are at risk of admission into hospital.

“If there is any urgent therapy or nursing required then we can provide that. However, there are some patients who we feel need more of a social input and that is where this partnership with the Red Cross works perfectly.”

Chris Leek, independent living service manager for the British Red Cross, added: “The collaboration allows SWBH’s community services to meet medical needs, while the Red Cross provides support for non-medical needs including befriending, accompanying people to hospital appointments, shopping, applying for benefits, meeting friends and family and getting out and about to clubs and social activities.

“It ensures that with Red Cross support, people can often remain in their own homes and can avoid having to go into hospital.”