Saving Time, Decreasing Waiting Lists

Our March Company of the month is Access Elemental Social Prescribing “Clinicians are seeing up to five hours per patient being saved through the efficiency of one system being connected with another.”

Social Prescribing Day takes place this week on 14th March and is an annual celebration of the people, organisations and communities who make social prescribing happen.

Northern Ireland based Access Elemental Social Prescribing was founded over a decade ago by Leeann Monk-Ozgul and Jennifer Neff, both social prescribing link workers.

“We knew that social prescribing could be a powerful tool to demonstrate the difference the voluntary, community and social care sector makes in improving citizen health and wellbeing outcomes and reducing demand on public sector services. 

“Health and social care professionals wanted trusted referral routes into social prescribing link workers and the voluntary, community and social care sector (VCSE) and up to date information about community assets such as walking groups, debt advice, befriending, and social welfare legal advice. 

“Citizens wanted to know more about local initiatives to tackle loneliness, isolation, mental and physical health related issues, and commissioners required more detailed data insights into what was working well and where the gaps were to make better data driven decisions. 

“With help from funding and mentoring from CTRIC (the Clinical Translational Research and Innovation Centre at Altnagelvin Hospital), Propel Programme, InvestNI, Derry City Council and Techstart, Elemental was launched at NHS Expo in 2016 and secured its first five customers early 2017,” explained co-founder, Jennifer Neff.

In 2021 Elemental was acquired by the Access Group, joining the Access HSC (Health, Support and Care) offering, and additional investment was made into the social prescribing platform to enhance its interoperability with other UK leading systems. It’s now a fully integrated platform with primary care, secondary care, and social care systems, helping citizens get the support and empowerment they need and deserve to address the social determinants of health.

I’m an advocate for joined up care, social prescribing, and tech for good. I work directly with Integrated Care Boards designing, implementing, and demonstrating the value of joined up care, innovation, and mental health transformation across systems.  

My background in economic and social development and working in communities helped me to understand the challenges people face. I take immense pride in creating Elemental with Leeann, leading a team of forty-five people and be a driving force behind what Access Elemental has become,” said Jennifer.

Access Elemental is a cloud-based platform that serves a population of over twenty million people that enables all stakeholders in health and wellbeing to play a part in helping address social issues that face their patients and citizens. 

“We pride ourselves that Access Elemental fully integrates with primary care systems, secondary care systems, and social care systems, so that users can make, manage, and report on referrals to social prescribing, care coordination, health coaching and general wellbeing, safely and securely. 

“What makes the difference between us and others is that we have a widely used and well supported configurable product and we are a team of dedicated social prescribing and community development specialists with vast domain knowledge. 

“For us and our customers, it isn’t about technology for technology’s sake, it is about overcoming the challenges that our customers face together. We are partners in every sense and that’s what is most important to those who procure Access Elemental.”

Based in Derry, Northern Ireland, Jennifer continues to run the day-to-day of Elemental social prescribing from the office in The AMP, Ebrington Square, with frequent visits to Loughborough where the Access Group head office resides. 

“Derry is a great place to live and start and grow a business. There are more funding streams open to people with ideas here now than when I first started. Leeann and I sometimes struggled to get people to understand the challenges we were trying to address. 

“Our first exposure came via an initiative called the TMED Health Challenge. Leeann and I pitched our idea in front of a room packed with people and despite not winning, the person who won gave us his £500 prize and three months incubation space in our local innovation hub, CTRIC). 

Elemental started as a spark of an idea, with Leeann and I spending an initial two years listening to specific stakeholders in the health and wellbeing ecosystem and testing the concept of helping to establish and scale the model of social prescribing. It started from a paper prototype, then a basic proof of concept, and continued to a minimum viable product (MVP) which we demoed eighty times over a two-day conference in Manchester in 2016. We captured interest from commissioners, social prescribing leads, patient advocates and health and social care professionals. Enhancements kept on being made and we won more funding applications. In the early days we didn’t win much funding. It was tough going, but we kept each other motivated and agreed not to give up!

“From product launch to securing the first customer took five months. We joined forces with some of the people we met at the launch at NHS Expo and made a joint funding application to an NHS Innovation fund. We won five contracts within a couple of months and that was Elemental off the starting block. 

“At Access Elemental Social Prescribing, one of our biggest initiatives is to drive innovation with integration. We know that social prescribing works best where a co-production approach is used. For this to happen strong multi-disciplinary teams need to be developed and all stakeholders need to access the information they need when they need it. Through integrating our software with different clinical systems and third-party systems, all stakeholders can receive the information they need to track and monitor the impact social prescribing can have. We feel through integrating our platform we are ensuring we are not adding to Link Workers’ and Clinicians’ workloads, instead, we are helping bring together social prescribing and population health management to deliver better proactive and preventative measures, overcoming the health inequalities across a community and improving overall wellbeing.

“There have been so many developments in the past two years since being part of The Access Group. 

“We’re seeing the biggest impact from the integration that one of our first customers helped us to develop between the Rio EPR and Elemental platforms to enable clinicians in mental health and community trusts to address patient’s social needs by linking into social prescribing. They can refer their patients to social prescribing and the VCSE sector and see the uptake and impact of the referral. Not only has it made a difference to patient’s quality of life getting the support and empowerment they need to address the social issues affecting their health but also clinicians are seeing up to five hours per patient being saved through the efficiency of one system being connected with another. They are saving time looking for community assets to refer people to as it is all in one place, the referral process is simplified and faster and the partnership between the Trusts and the VCSE (voluntary community and social enterprise) sector are strengthened. I love how we work with our customers to develop new products. It was our special six-year relationship with our customer, Merseycare NHS Foundation Trust and The Life Rooms that is so transformational. See the full report here.

The fact that there were two of us. Leeann and I were a team right from the start. We had total belief in what we were doing and why we were doing it. We surrounded ourselves with the best mentors and the best team. The passion for the vision, each other and people not believing in us pushed us further. The fact we were showing it could be achieved and how we were inspiring non techy founders, women, and Derry people to continue to think big. We have developed our approach over the years. We started with understanding who are markets are, what challenges are there, what was the compelling case for using Access Elemental, and what would happen if they didn’t have us. We’re focused on how Access Elemental has evolved, and how it can help deliver on population health objectives. 

“We always knew we would need to secure investment to grow the company. Unfortunately, we were turned down here in NI by numerous angel investment funds. We were lucky that Mary McKenna from The Awaken Hub was one of our mentors. She has the best network I know of, so we all jumped on a plane to London to pitch to an angel investment network she knew well. We pitched to a packed room of social impact angel investors who loved what we were about and who got it straight away. 41 days later we had £300k in our back account. That enabled us to create ten new jobs in Derry. It remains one of our proudest moments.

“I’m very proud of our story and growth.”

  1. It is all about addressing a challenge that you’re passionate about, listening to everyone affected by the challenge, coming up with a solid solution and surrounding yourself with talented people who are authentic. 
  2. Have a clear mission and stay focused. I recently read the application we did for TMED back in 2013 and was delighted to see we hadn’t drifted away from our original vision. It is so easy to try and do too much and that can be the thing that leads to bad decision making and distractions that you just don’t need. 
  3. Recruit well. I love coming into the office every day. I work with the best people. We genuinely care about what we do and have fun at the same time. We respect each other, don’t take ourselves too seriously and bring our dogs into the office. Recruitment can be tough when you’re starting out and under pressure to grow. A bad recruitment decision can have a massive impact on your team. You owe it to you employees to find the right fit for your organisation. Speak to previous employers, really think about your culture, and ask yourself will that person add to it or detract?
  4. Surround yourself with the right people. There’s a great buzz in Derry and the wider NI at the moment and lots of people are working together who have ideas, startups and scale ups. Go to events hosted by The Amp in Derry, Ormeau Baths in Belfast, Catalyst and HIRANI, and join networks like The Awaken Hub and HIRANI, and talk about the challenge you are trying to address. Connect with others and ask plenty of questions.
  5. Find a co-founder! It’s great to celebrate the wins together but more importantly to keep each other going through the tough times. Leeann and I have shared the past 10 years together and have been on the most incredible journey together. We’re now working with other founders in The Access Group as there are many products within the HSC division. I really enjoy that as we work out how our products connect to deliver the best health and social care experience. 

Find out more and reach out to Jennifer via LinkedIn if you’d like to discuss your plans to halt avoidable health inequalities and for better health and social care in your region, or if you’re on a startup/ scale up journey.

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