Dr Vikesh Sharma - WONCA Europe 5 Star Doctor 2021
WONCA Europe is proud to announce the winner of the WONCA Europe Award of Excellence in Health Care: The 5-Star Doctor 2021: Dr. Vikesh Sharma from the UK. Dr. Sharma will be one of the European candidates for the WONCA World 5-Star Doctor Award of 2021 in November.
The WONCA Europe 5 Star Doctor Award 2021 was presented at the WONCA Europe Virtual Conference, 7 – 10 July 2021.
About Dr. Sharma
Dr Vikesh Sharma explores how to apply theories of health inequalities & social determinants of health to real world primary care. Working in one of the more deprived areas of London with over 100 ethnicities represented – he has developed innovative and powerful relationships between family medicine and community.
Early in his career, he worked with the Portuguese speaking population in Lambeth where emerging evidence showed that in London’s ‘Little Portugal’, the community suffered disproportionately in a variety of health and wellbeing measures including cardiovascular risk, mental health, infectious disease and educational attainment.
Working with colleagues from Portugal and local leaders he led improvements in access to general practice and health promotion activities. Projects were delivered not only in clinic settings but also by collaborating with local centres, cafes, churches and housing associations. His work was supported by the Portuguese consulate and has appeared on national Portuguese media.
This grassroots movement grew and Dr Sharma co-founded a registered Community Interest Company - The Lambeth Portuguese Wellbeing Partnership (LPWP). He helps to lead a core group of 40 local organisations and individual community members and a wider network of over 150 members who are committed to working together to combine their knowledge, passion, resources, perspectives and skills to improve the health and wellbeing of the local Portuguese-speaking communities.
Working with a diverse group of partners this group has gone onto deliver wide ranging projects that include:
- Creating community events that allow residents, grassroots organisations, politicians, community members and businesses to connect around issues of health
- Empowering children and young people through school work support, promoting healthy lifestyles and mentorship around future aspirations
- Promoting culturally sensitive conversations around end of life and advanced care planning.
- Re-designing GP service delivery for non-English speaking frail patients so that they received joint assessments led by a nurse and community liaison worker to create a care plan.
- Supporting the Portuguese Consulate to deliver an EU Settled Status workshop on immigration advice
Having gained the trust of the local community, his advocacy and compassionate approach to healthcare delivery has resulted in Dr Sharma becoming a key opinion leader. The LPWP now has representation in discussions with local stakeholders, advocating for the community around planning in local housing association projects as well as ensuring the community fair representation in public sector employment contracts.
To showcase the LPWP spirit, in 2018 Dr Sharma created its flagship project - the “Household Model”.
This builds on theories of social determinants of health. It deliberately defines people not by a disease or a diagnosis but by the wellbeing capacity that exists within the immediate environment and close social connections of that person - the household. This model forces us to ask different questions about health and create new teams to deliver wellbeing. This in turn gives insight into how systems and community can come together in new ways. The model has attracted significant interest & funding from regional and national policy makers as future phases of this project are now planned.
Dr Sharma’s ethos of inclusivity and valuing different perspectives has helped support emerging leadership in LPWP. Local residents now lead on project delivery and sit on its executive board. There are members who have founded new charities such as Respeito (support victims of Domestic Violence) and clinicians who have gone onto be pioneers of social prescribing internationally including Dr Cristiano Figueiredo - who transferred this template of working to Lisbon to support local Bangladeshi communities.
KNUST-Grantham Health partnership
Another significant population to suffer inequality are the West African residents of Stockwell. For this purpose, Dr Sharma co-founded a collaborative project with Dr Kwame-Ayisi Boateng at KNUST (Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology), Kumasi, Ghana.
This venture at its core believes that sharing learning and perspectives can benefit both primary care health systems. A key objective is for the promotion and exposure of primary care as a career to medical students in Kumasi. In London, already insights into culture and health seeking behaviours has helped Dr Sharma run a program of monthly education sessions for women at the local Methodist church, around topics such as obesity, prostate cancer & dementia.
A Placed Based Approach
In 2019, Dr Sharma in partnership with several community leaders, co-founded Thriving Stockwell to represent the local neighbourhood. This was the natural evolution from LPWP, transferring the approach from a community of language to a community of place.
This work was further strengthened as Dr Sharma took on the role of Clinical Director for the local Stockwell Primary Care Network (PCN) - a network of five primary care clinics serving 44,000 registered patients. As part of this role, he works with 8 other PCN directors to influence the strategic primary care direction of the borough of Lambeth which has almost 350,000 residents.
Through this PCN - Thriving Stockwell platform he is already creating exciting new projects including:
- Working with Creditors to provide breathing space for vulnerable patients in financial debt and measuring its impact on health
- A Health Education England funded project looking at how to improve the mental wellbeing of over 100 staff that work in primary care clinics, including exploring the interesting idea of how community can support general practice.
- Developing a new neighbourhood brand around wellbeing and exploring how this can exist both physically and virtually for example through street markets and online community forums.
- Exploring how green spaces can be mapped to provide opportunities for wellbeing. This includes the Lambeth food Co-op where patients are invited to attend green spaces outside primary care clinics to grow vegetables and connect with others.
The pandemic provided evidence of how both the LPWP and Thriving Stockwell were able to mobilise quickly and provide much needed support to marginalised communities. This was only possible due to the years of relationship building and partnership development initiated and continued by Dr Sharma.
Despite the heavy workload of having to help plan the delivery of vaccine roll out to local residents and his usual clinical work he has been going above and beyond by engaging with the local communities
Through Thriving Stockwell he helped capture patient stories from residents of different languages and cultures and create videos from GPs that encouraged vaccine uptake. From this he got funding to develop a website – www.Lambethjab.com which is now acting as a locally led, community friendly online space for factual information that works alongside official NHS messaging.
The LPWP set up the COVID-19 Grupo Lusófono da Entreaiuda de Lambeth (Mutual Aid group) including a telephone helpline with Portuguese volunteers to offer crises support for issues such as unemployment, housing or food poverty.
It worked to support those suffering social isolation, providing psychological support, friendship/befriending services, online social activities & health & wellbeing programs on local Portuguese Radio
Consequently, the LPWP was chosen as an exemplar case study by the New NHS Alliance (a national leadership body representing providers of care outside hospital) to highlight progressive Covid responses for migrant communities.
Thriving Communities as Health and wellbeing hubs
Dr Sharma’s journey so far has shown how genuine relationships between primary care and community can unlock significant potential. Core to this are values of equity, power shifting, and an asset based approach.
He has empowered grassroots organisations to contribute to their own communities rather than pushing a top-down approach. This has led to him becoming a key contributor to the conversation of how local health care infrastructure can rebuild post Covid. Thriving Stockwell, supported by local government, now leads a wider Thriving communities movement developing across the borough of Lambeth.
All these projects outlined in this nomination have been performed on top of this clinical work as a family physician and practice partner. His humility has meant that much of his work has gone unrecognised outside his local area and, more impressively, he has achieved this as an individual, without the power of an institution, but out of passion and dedication for his patients.