Reverse public health cuts and step up GP social prescribing, says London mayor

London mayor Sadiq Khan has backed social prescribing as a major weapon in the fight against health inequalities in the capital and urged the government to reverse public health cuts.

City Hall (Photo: iStock.com/DaLiu)
City Hall (Photo: iStock.com/DaLiu)

Presenting a strategy to help tackle health inequalities to the London Assembly on Monday, Sadiq Khan warned that government cuts to public health funding - expected to result in a £600m reduction to councils’ public health grants between 2015/16 and 2019/20 - are preventing people from accessing support for non-medical issues.

GPonline revealed earlier this year that more than three quarters of GPs reported cuts in funding for public health services at their practice. This website also revealed that a quarter of GPs now regularly use social prescribing, with more saying they would do so if additional resources were made available.

Mr Khan said: ‘The enormous and unsustainable pressures currently facing the NHS and public health provision, and cuts to local government funding – including the public health grant - threaten to undermine the success of our programmes in London, putting people’s health at risk.’

‘The truth is that without the government stepping up to the plate and providing the funding our city needs, tackling London’s health inequalities is going to be much harder.’

Social prescribing

The strategy, which was consulted on earlier this year, looks to tackle the capital’s health inequalities by focusing on priorities including ‘healthy communities’ and ‘healthy living’.

The report reads: ‘The mayor’s key ambition is to support the most disadvantaged Londoners to benefit from social prescribing to improve their health and wellbeing… As around 20% of visits to the GP are for non-medical problems.

‘The mayor would like more people to have the power to act on the things that affect their health. He wants more people to have access to groups, places and networks that make their community a healthy place.’

According to the strategy, this includes making sure all Londoners have the opportunity to participate in community life - empowering people to improve their own and their communities' health and wellbeing - and helping Londoners to be physically active, making sure they have access to healthy food and reducing the use of or harms caused by tobacco, illicit drugs, alcohol and gambling.

Other key strategy areas include child health, mental health and a healthier environment.

'More than medicine'

GPonline figures suggest that social prescribing is continuing to gain traction in general practice, with 44% of GPs who responded to a recent survey saying they have used it at least once before.

A further 22% said they would refer in this way if they had more information about the services available, and 14% said they were open to the idea but had never tried it.

Earlier this year, RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard wrote about the benefits of social prescribing for GPonline. She argued that good GPs had 'always practised social prescribing’ in various forms.

Professor Yvonne Doyle, regional director for London for Public Health England, said: ‘This is an important move from the mayor to help tackle the health inequalities that we face in our city. It goes beyond simply identifying the challenges that we face by offering a wide range of solutions that start at City Hall. It also importantly calls for others to step forward and help those who are most disadvantaged.’

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