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A social response for health and wellbeing

Cirqit was created by Dr Mukesh Haikerwal AC and Dr Karyn Alexander, both General Practitioners at, and Directors of, the Altona North Medical Group (ANMG) at Circle Health. Cirqit is located upstairs from, and underpinned by, Circle Health, an innovative health practice in Altona North.

Like other GPs, Cirqit’s founders are at the frontline of treatment and believe that the medical model does not always provide what a patient might need. Patients return to ANMG time and time again with recurring health issues, many of which can be prevented with a healthy diet, an active lifestyle and social connections.

“GPs can’t be all things to all people,” as Coralie Lowe noted, a nutritionist who runs healthy cooking programs at Cirqit. In the words of another GP, sometimes “…patients need people, not pills”[1]. Cirqit has been set up as a space to provide a social response for health and wellbeing, to complement the medical model being provided downstairs at ANMG.

Cirqit enables people to take responsibility for their own health. People who have control over their lives, and destiny, enjoy better health than people who do not. Cirqit aims to tap into the natural energy that people have when they are encouraged to follow their own ideas and will build health from ‘bottom up’. This differs from the ‘top down’ approach, where needs are assessed and then the medical model supplies what is needed[2].

GPs at ANMG can, for example, suggest it as a space for patients to meet with others with the same health issues in support groups, or share new life skills. Patients who take up this opportunity help to fill the social gaps in their own, and others’, health care, by building resilience and social connections. They may be cooks, nutritionists, choir leaders, craft makers, dancers, artists, tai chi instructors and musicians. Any patient can offer to host an interactive life skills session.

Cirqit is an experiment for south-west Melbourne (‘build it and they will come’) but is based on a successful model of community-centred care that its founders have experienced in the UK. The Robin Lane Health and Wellbeing Centre now works with more than 50 enthusiastic citizens who deliver 30 different kinds of groups and activities. These ‘Practice Champions’ also support service delivery in many different ways including for example increasing the numbers of people attending Saturday flu clinic from 300 to over 800 people.

“The Champions have enabled a lot of things to happen which wouldn’t have been able to happen otherwise”, Linda Belderson, GP.

According to Dr Mev Forbes, Managing Partner, lives have been transformed, people are no longer isolated; they have made new friendships and use services differently.

Laneway Learning is another community-centred learning model for Cirqit. A series of cheap, informal evening classes taught by ordinary people from the local community, Laneway Learning first started in Melbourne in March 2012 and has since spread to other cities.

[1] Dr Niall McCloud, GP, Exeter, cited Reducing the pressure in General Practice: a new model of care, altogetherbetter, n.d.

[2] Karyn Alexander comment: The social determinants of health really captures all there is to say about the methodology (for Cirqit). The crux of the matter is “control”. People who have control over their lives (their destiny) enjoy better health than people who do not. The old way, a top down approach, was the needs assessment and then supply what is needed. This way taps into the natural energy that people have when they are encouraged to follow their own ideas and builds health from bottom up. It will need some guidance (and the power to veto ideas that could harm others or our ethos, but this is the way I see it working