Councillor Maggie Carman
Councillor Maggie Carman

Social Prescribing is in its early days, but indications are that it works, according to Bayswater Labour Councillor Maggie Carman at the Council meeting on 1st May.

“I recently went to a conference on Social Prescribing and it opened my eyes to an exciting new approach.  It is a means of enabling GPs, nurses and other healthcare practitioners to refer people to a range of local, non-clinical services.  These might be advice services, gardening projects, art or drama clubs, volunteering – the range is endless.

Social Prescribing can especially benefit people who are socially isolated and it’s worth remembering that 22% of households in Westminster are occupied by a single person over the age of 65.  One lady in East London who took part in a pilot project said, “I was sick of staring at my four walls, sometimes I felt like throwing myself under a bus, but I wasn’t brave enough.” Attending a regular local social club and building up a network of friendships transformed her life.

I do think there’s a bit of a problem with the term, “Social Prescribing”; it does sound a bit like a professional telling you what to do as it will be good for you rather than the person centred, collaborative approach that would be essential to success.  You can imagine how you might feel if you went to the doctor with your aches and pains only to be prescribed Ballroom Dancing.

And it’s not only about what can we do to help you?  It’s also about what can you do to help others.  Volunteering is a powerful force for social cohesion and volunteering has been found to provide many benefits to both physical and mental health.  The social contact aspect of helping and working with others can have a profound effect on overall psychological well- being.  You know yourselves, as Councillors, when you’ve successfully completed a tricky bit of casework, and from the occasional thank you letters, that helping others makes you feel good.

Social Prescribing is in its early days, yet but indications are that it works.  And instinctively you think it must do as loneliness has been shown to be such a significant indicator of ill-health. The University of Westminster recently published a review of the evidence assessing the impact of social prescribing on healthcare demands and cost implications.  The findings included:

  • An average 28% reduction in demand for GP services
  • An average 24% fall in Accident and Emergency attendances
  • And a pilot scheme in Rotherham showed hospital inpatient admissions reduced by as much as 21%
  • And 83% of patients reported improvements in their well-being and better self -management of their conditions

If these outcomes were sustained there would be significant cost benefits to the NHS.

Social prescribing could free up beds and help stop bed blocking in hospitals.  It could help cut down GP visits, especially the 20% of GP visits that are primarily about social problems rather than medical problems.  It could certainly help reduce the burden on carers.  And from a Westminster Council point of view

I’m sure Social Prescribing could reduce the Adult Social Care Bill.

So, let’s embrace this new approach to improving our citizens’ health.  Invest in our local providers of activities, such as Open Age and encourage voluntary organisations and different cultural and activity groups in Westminster to get involved.  It’s an idea whose time has come.”

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