Making an impact
The positive impact of getting involved in a community group or taking up a new sport are well known, but the value these activities have in helping people who have traditionally been seen by medical professionals are not.
This practice is called social prescribing. It involves the referral of patients with a variety of primary care needs to groups and initiatives within their community. In doing so, social prescribing enables patients to take part in social activities, such as a sport or voluntary work, with the support and guidance of a local link worker.
I lead Radian’s pilot social prescribing programme in Whitehill and Bordon in East Hampshire. The pilot began in October 2018 and in a short space of time we have engaged with dozens of people, residents and non-residents alike, through referrals from their GP, community nurse or by contact with Radian directly.
Research and preparation are key
A large amount of research went into preparing the programme which has allowed us to tailor our approach to best meet the needs of the community. We were aware of existing initiatives in the area and wanted to understand how we could build upon their work by raising the number of people who were referred, while also ensuring that those people were able to access their prescribed activities.
Our research found that patients were more likely to take up, and then remain engaged with their prescription, if their link worker took a more ‘hands on’ role. For us, this has meant an initial meeting with the patient in order to get to know them, their needs and to discuss the different options available to them. We have then subsequently helped them take part in their chosen activity by facilitating transport and attending with them until they feel comfortable going alone.
The work that went into researching and developing the scheme also highlighted another important consideration; many people in the area look for purposeful activities to take part in on a regular basis, not just an activity to fill their time every now and then.
Many of the initiatives that we link patients with do just this, such as voluntary work at a local nature reserve or an initiative producing handmade furniture for people in need. I have witnessed first-hand the dramatic effect that participation has had on people facing a number of challenges including anxiety and agoraphobia.
The pilot is in the process of collecting feedback to assess our work to date. From my experience, participants have progressed at different rates but already a small number of those taking part feel confident enough to attend their activities without the direct support of their link worker. This gives us an early and welcome indication of the positive impact that the scheme has had.
One thing that has taken us by surprise has been the large number of referrals for low-intensity mental health problems such as anxiety and loneliness.
Having initially expected patients with a broad range of needs to access the service, these cases have represented the majority of our referrals. Many of these people are not isolated in the traditional sense, they have a family and a network of friends around them, yet their feeling of isolation extends beyond this; highlighting social isolation as a significant contemporary challenge for communities across the country.
The next stage of our pilot will look at further developing our partnerships to draw in a wider range of support services; this includes working with new partners to close a gap we have identified in elderly friendship services in the area.
We will also be looking to develop partnerships with NHS clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in the area who are increasingly looking towards social prescribing to improve the health and wellbeing of some of their patients.
The pilot has proved to be an important learning exercise and will help us to further develop the services that we can offer to our residents and the communities that we work in.
– Kate Dench, Community Development Officer at Radian