Dr James Fleming launched the Green Dreams Project to provide local, community-based solutions to unemployment, isolation and reduced quality of life among his practice's patients in Padiham, East Lancashire.
He was seeing patients who had multiple problems, such as substance abuse, learning difficulties, educational difficulties, relationship problems, life crises, poor housing, financial problems and low self-esteem, that were having a detrimental effect on their physical or mental health.
But these patients did not have the self-confidence or the means to attend the many self-referral agencies necessary to bring about change in several areas of their lives at once.
Dr Fleming said: 'We prioritise those who other agencies have been unable to help, those who are furthest from the labour market and those who are elderly and isolated.'
The community interest company started in January 2011 with one project worker and there are now five project workers handling referrals from nine practices across seven towns. 'Project workers initially spend time with each patient to define the barriers to enhanced quality of life,' said Dr Fleming. 'A programme specific to each patient can be designed to address these and we can then marry health and social needs together and closely measure our effect.'
Patients are offered voluntary work that raises their self-esteem and provides a route to paid employment. Activities have included the development of derelict land and the creation of groups to address the problem of social isolation.
Some 27% of patients who engaged with Green Dreams have seen directly attributable benefit to their mental or physical health, and 20% have markedly reduced their GP appointments.
The scheme has enabled numerous patients to return to work or become work-ready, as well as reducing depression and anxiety and the use of related medication.
An important part of the project's rapid success has been securing the involvement of numerous local and national agencies, and Dr Fleming's ultimate aim is to roll out the model across the country.
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