By Dave Young 

Representatives from over 80 voluntary sector groups recently attended a Social Prescribing event at East Sussex College in Station Plaza.  Social prescribing enables GPs, nurses and other medical professionals to refer people to a range of non-clinical local activities, typically provided by community organisations such as volunteering, arts, gardening, befriending, cookery classes, healthy eating advice, sports and reading.

Research shows social prescriptions may help patients get better quicker than those treated with medicine alone, including those with multiple long-term conditions, in need of mental health support, or who are lonely, isolated, or with complex social needs. The conference aimed to build connections to promote easier access to well-being services, combat over medicalising, narrow the gap between ‘providers’ and ‘receivers’, and facilitate networking. 

Delegates at the event, organised by Hasting Voluntary Action and East Sussex County Council, heard speakers stress the importance of getting GPs and practice managers on board; medical professionals needed to have confidence in social prescribing and be prepared for patient resistance. 

Non-medical issues take up a lot of GPs’ time. But, locally, Warrior Square and Churchwood surgeries already have specialist community connection workers to assist referrals.

Richard Watson, of NHS Hastings and Rother Clinical Commissioning Group, pointed out the need for continuity of funding and IT support to fully integrate social prescribing into CCG’s primary care role.

Carla Wilkins, from East Sussex Recovery Services, outlined the importance of link workers spending time with patients at an early stage, and accompanying and supporting them at their first social prescription session.

Jenny Twist, of Care for the Carers, highlighted how physical and mental health deteriorates as a result of caring. This might be avoided by social prescribing at an early stage. 

Health secretary Matt Hancock has enthusiastically backed the expansion of social prescribing as a way of relieving the pressure on the NHS and improving patients’ chances of recovery. It features prominently in the new NHS England ten-year plan, which provides increased funding for such preventative interventions. The number of workers trained to prescribe social activities is set to rise, with more than 1,000 being recruited by 2020-21, and eventually hoped to handle around 900,000 patient appointments per year.

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