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Making social prescribing mainstream business

10th April 2017

Jane Barnacle, Senior Responsible Officer for Personalisation and Self-Care at Healthy London Partnership and Regional Director for Patients and Information at NHS England (London region), explains why we’re supporting CCGs to help make social prescribing available to all Londoners.

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People are living longer and are developing long term health conditions as they get older. Their health can be affected by a wide range of factors including employment, housing, debt, social isolation and culture.

Struggling to find a job, get out of debt or keep your home can have a hugely negative impact on your health.

Help with these things is often available through local authorities, charities and local community organisations, but few people know about the full range of support available.

Social prescribing is a means by which health professionals and others can signpost people to this support so they can get help with these aspects of their lives.

There are different ways of providing social prescribing services but evidence suggests that this type of support can make a real difference to people’s health and wellbeing.

In aspiring to be the world’s healthiest major global city, the London Health Commission report Better Health for London calls for coordinated action to enable Londoners to do more to look after themselves.

This aspiration strongly aligns with NHS England’s vision for change, as set out in Chapter 2 of the Five Year Forward View.

All five London Sustainability and Transformation plans (or STPs) identified a focus on social prescribing as a means of implementing a range of person-centred approaches in tandem with preventative initiatives and maximising the use of community based assets.

Since April 2015, Healthy London Partnership has galvanised leadership, forged strong links with national, regional and local partners and focused on evolving the evidence-base to demonstrate the value of person-centred and community-centred approaches.

We have drawn inspiration and learning from the early adopting innovators like Bromley-by-Bow, Rotherham, Bristol, City and Hackney and others to develop a new resource for commissioners.

Steps towards implementing self care: a focus on social prescribing for commissioners focuses primarily on supporting people with long term conditions.

It is not a definitive guide but offers practical assistance on what we have learned so far from the best available evidence.

It sets out the steps commissioners need to take to invest effectively in social prescribing and provides a framework for monitoring and evaluating impact and value for money.

It identifies the activities needed to support social prescribing and lists useful websites, potential sources of funding and examples of high quality social prescribing services.

There is also a section that focuses on social prescribing for children, young people, parents and carers.

The resource is accompanied by a slide pack, Social prescribing and expert experience programmes modellling, which provides data on how many people across London could benefit from social prescribing and how these initiatives could save the NHS in London £533 million by 2021.

Social prescribing works best when NHS and local authority commissioners, GP and primary care teams, voluntary and community sectors all work together.

Some of the core elements we identified in existing successful social prescribing schemes are:

  • Partnership between the NHS and diverse voluntary sector, social enterprise, and community organisations
  • Training and activating the workforce is essential.  GPs and other professionals will need to know about it and trained link workers with the appropriate skills, attitudes and knowledge of local community networksare  required
  • Holistic assessment which takes account of the range of factors influencing health and wellbeing and reflects each individual’s priorities and goals
  • Coordinated and personalised support plans, with information, advice and guidance aiming to support and motivate people, and build links to community assets and resources
  • A focus on broader aims than traditional healthcare may be able to offer – including the well-being, effective functioning, and social connectedness of people and their families

We have been encouraged by the depth and breadth of social prescribing schemes operating in London. This gives us confidence that local leaders have the necessary assets in place to build on to make social prescribing more widely available.

The challenge therefore for commissioners is how social prescribing can become, in time, mainstream business – and systematically available to people of all ages across the capital, regardless of their mental and/or physical conditions.

Healthy London Partnership intends to publish additional resources to support commissioners later in 2017.

We hope all commissioners in London find these resources helpful as they work towards implementing social prescribing for their communities.

For more information about our Primary Care programme contact Liz Wise, Senior Lead, at liz.wise1@nhs.net

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