Social prescribing seems to have been in vogue since I can remember but, lately, the government has made a series of announcements about the NHS embracing it.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) recently announced £4.5m of spending on social prescribing and last month's government strategy on tackling loneliness promised that social prescribing would be rolled out across England by 2023. Meanwhile, this week health and social care secretary Matt Hancock announced plans to expand social prescribing to arts and culture.
So, how has social prescribing happened in our practice?
In November 2017, the local branch of mental health charity Mind moved into our practice, becoming the first in the country to be located in a GP surgery. Coincidently, a few months later our senior administrator, practice manager and I attended a social prescribing conference in London, which really inspired us to look at how we could develop social prescribing in our practice.
Since then, Jennifer has become our senior wellbeing coordinator - paid for out of existing practice funds. She works closely with Louise and Gemma from Telford Mind and, between the three of them, they have developed a programme of coffee mornings, activities and mental health support which is now getting noticed across our CCG.
‘Court Street Community’, as it is known, has already supported patients not just from our practice but from across the town and has great ambitions to develop what it can offer.
Providing support to patients
Our model means that GPs, nurses, reception staff and other onsite organisations can pick up the phone to someone who can immediately come and gently guide that person into the support they need.
So far there have been over 400 visits to the coffee mornings, Tai Chi, the listening service and other support in just four months.
The next stage for us is to identify those making unnecessary GP appointments, A&E attendances and ambulance call outs. Some of them come to see the doctor or call an ambulance because it may be their only social interaction of the week.
If we can persuade them not to come to the doctor twice a week, but to come every day for a cup of tea, a piece of cake and to make friends, then not only will the cost to the NHS fall, but those in need of support will get it.
We know we’re not unique and we know we have a lot to learn. Jennifer, Louise and Gemma have driven the project and it is they who deserve all the credit.
As partners, we get to feel good about implementing our liberal values in a practical way, but it is down to three capable, bright, caring individuals that large numbers of people are being supported. We had no idea when Telford Mind moved in that we would see such a collaboration develop.
- Clive Elliott is business partner at Court Street Medical Practice in Telford