By Rod Webb

Social prescribing is a process whereby GPs and other primary care professionals can refer people to a range of local, non-clinical services, such as gardening, cookery, or arts classes that help them with their health and mental wellbeing. 

PICTURE: Tara Reddy

Although this might appear to be new, it has been practised in the UK for more than 30 years. But in 2006, it was highlighted in a government white paper and has been gaining ground ever since.

More importantly, the evidence is that it works. Not only does it lead to a range of positive health outcomes, it can also save money in the long run by reducing GP visits and the overall load on the NHS.

Social prescribing was pioneered in Hastings by Southdown, a not-for-profit specialist provider of care, support and housing services for vulnerable people in Sussex. Southdown recently hosted a networking event at East Sussex College (click here) and are now part of a countywide pathway project run by East Sussex County Council to connect the various support services that are available.

One such support service is run by Tara Reddy, who was involved with the original pioneering work done by Southdown. She has set up her own community interest company (CIC), Arts on Prescription, to make art-based therapies available through their GPs. This is art in its widest sense, involving reminiscence and confidence-building, as well as more creative activities, all aimed at enhancing wellbeing and reducing social isolation.

“The purpose is not to replace conventional therapies,” Reddy says, “but rather to act as an addition, helping people in their recovery through creativity and increasing social engagement.”

Measured improvements include “positive physiological and psychological changes in clinical outcomes” she says. These include reduction in use of drugs, shortening length of hospital stay and the promotion of better doctor-patient relationships.

All workshops are facilitated by professional artists alongside qualified wellbeing practitioners with a passion for creative play and an understanding of the benefit it brings to people’s mental health and wellbeing. They are designed to accommodate all needs, ages, backgrounds and abilities. Anyone wishing to make use of the services should just ask their GP for a referral.

• The sessions are entirely free and run every Friday from 10am -12.30pm until the end of August. They take place in the Connect Well Centre above the Warrior Square GP surgery in Marlborough House St Leonards.

• To download a GPs referral letter and to find out more, visit www.artsonprescription.org


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