Speaking at the RCGP annual conference 2015 in Glasgow, RCGP health inequalities group chairman Dr Patrick Hutt pointed to data showing the extent to which where people live in the UK affects their life expectancy, mortality, social deprivation and years of life with illness.
GPs could not simply prescribe statins to tackle the effects of poverty, he warned. 'We should be doing something more. Social prescribing has been touted as a potential solution.'
Dr Hutt said GPs in his area of north London had decided to do 'something big and bold', and had set up three consortia with 23 practices involved.
Teams of social prescribing co-ordinators funded by local CCGs are now signposting patients to around 80 organisations, including a city farm, walking clubs, ballroom dancing and other schemes.
'We had more than 700 referrals in the first 18 months of the scheme,' Dr Hutt told the conference.
GPs need to find out what services are available in their local community, he said. Responses from patients referred in the Camden scheme have been extremely positive, with some crediting the scheme as transforming their lives.
Dr Hutt said the scheme had yet to gather quantitative data to demonstrate the impact of social prescribing definitively, but that this process was 'in its infancy'.
However, he warned that a key problem for social prescribing schemes was that organisations patients were referred to under the scheme were constantly 'popping up, then going under when their funding dries up'.
It's a real Wild West,' Dr Hutt said. 'Volunteer co-ordinators signposting patients to services really need to know what's out there.'
Photo: Pete Hill