The practice of "social prescribing", which puts people with complex long-term health conditions in contact with local charities and community groups, can improve patients’ wellbeing and improve funding opportunities for those organisations, says a new report.
The report covers the success of the Rotherham social prescribing service, which helps GPs to meet the non-clinical needs of patients with complex long-term conditions and is run by Voluntary Action Rotherham, a partnership of more than 20 voluntary and community groups.
The service works by allowing GPs to refer patients to voluntary and community sector advisers, who then examine the patient’s non-medical support needs and refer them to appropriate services, which could include physical activities such as tai chi or community gardening projects.
The scheme includes a grant funding pot through which voluntary sector activities are commissioned to meet patients’ needs. The service was piloted from 2012 until 2015, at which point a three-year contract was agreed to continue the service.
The evaluation report, which was carried out by the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University on behalf of VAR, says patients who fully engaged with the SPS, and especially those that went beyond their initial "social prescription", were more likely to experience improvements in their wellbeing and a reduction in their use of emergency care.
The report says that social prescribing has proved effective at reducing social isolation and loneliness and increasing independence and community engagement among people with long-term conditions.
The report concludes that the service has shown how small voluntary and community organisations can make positive contributions to local strategic health and wellbeing priorities and has improved the credibility of the sector with statutory partners.
Social prescribing also has benefits for the local voluntary and community sector, and the grant funding provided by the SPS has improved organisational sustainability in the area, the report says.
It adds that the grant funding available through the SPS has helped to generate additional income from external sources, for example from grant funders and national statutory bodies.
Neil Cleeveley, chief executive of the local infrastructure body Navca, said: "Although the public sector faces tough budget decisions, this shows that smart commissioners should still invest in the voluntary sector.
"As shown by this report, social prescribing provides better services for people, saves the NHS money and is good for communities. I am amazed this approach isn’t being adopted everywhere."
Navca will hold a workshop in March about social prescribing.