Pensioner gets her 'spark' back after two bouts of cancer

Ena Kerr (centre) with Mary Campbell, coach David Doherty, Tony Lynch, Phillip Crossan, John Hegarty, Trevor McNulty, David Canning and Pat Bell
Seanín Graham

A PENSIONER who suffered extreme isolation after battling cancer twice has got her "spark" back after taking part in a new £3 million community project backed by GP surgeries.

Ena Kerr (77) from Derry admits that her only social outlet was going to "the doctor, the chemist and the food shop" due to a loss of confidence following her illness.

But in January, she became part of a pilot scheme whereby GPs refer patients who do not require medication but instead need support in the form of social interaction through clubs or groups.

Known as 'social prescribing', the Bogside and Brandywell Health Forum is the first to roll out the project following a £3.1m grant from the Big Lottery Fund. Similar services will funded in Scotland.

Mrs Kerr attends classes every week, including exercise workouts, and has only visited her GP once in the past six months.

"I've a number of long term health conditions - diabetes, degeneration of the spine and angina - but when I was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago I really went on a downward spiral. I was diagnosed with cancer twice and was lucky that on both occasions they were caught early so I didn't have to have chemotherapy, but having surgery twice was a big thing to process and it was very hard mentally.

"I was a regular at my GP, it was one of my only motivations to get out. The more time I spent in the house, the more isolated I felt and the lower I sank, the less I wanted to talk to people so I stopped contacting my friends.

"To help me feel less lonely and get me active my GP recommended that I get involved with some of the classes. I was unsure but I thought I'd give it a go and it's now the highlight of my week. I lost my cheekiness for a while, but I’m feeling like myself again and I have my spark back. I’m feeling younger and although I still have lows, I’m not hiding away as much."

The initiative comes a month after an influential group of doctor reported a big spike in the number of 'lonely' patients turning to their GPs for help..

The Royal College of General Practitioners (NI) even called for an increase in allotted 10-minute appointment slots to deal with the problem.

Seamus Ward, general manager of the Derry centre which received the investment, said they had received positive feedback from overstretched GPs, who said the classes are reducing patients' reliance on medication and tackling isolation.

"So we are taking the pressure off the GPs and making more time for them to see people who need medical care...It's less strain on their services, and waiting lists for appointments are being reduced."

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