LISA MCNALLY - (@lisa_mcnally1)
Social isolation is a killer. It increases mortality risk by around a third and is linked with everything from heart disease to depression and cognitive decline (Holt-Lunstadet 2015). Given this, it’s no surprise that programmes able to connect people to their community also serve to improve health outcomes and reduce healthcare costs (Pitkala et al 2009).
While there is still a lack of good quality studies, evidence is emerging that social prescribing programmes can achieve significant improvements in health, mental well-being and reduced costs to the health & social care system (Kings Fund, 2017).
Of course, just as a doctor’s prescription can only improve health if the patient has access to a well stocked pharmacy, so social prescribing schemes depend on a well stocked community. There needs to be a wide range of identified, local community groups and services that will offer a warm welcome to anyone referred. The process of identifying, mapping and supporting these ‘community assets’ is therefore a crucial element in social prescribing programmes.
Local authorities are well placed to make this happen.
For example, in Bracknell Forest, our Public Health team have developed a “Community
Map” of local groups that serves as a key resource for social prescribing.
Crucially, this map wasn’t developed by simply downloading details from local
voluntary service directories. Rather the team got out and explored local
areas, discovering those smaller groups that were not on any official ‘list’
but still had great potential to offer support and companionship.
Our elected members have been a central part of this process. Their knowledge of what is ‘out there’, as well as their well established relationships with local communities, has been invaluable to finding local groups and getting them on board.
Of course, the work doesn’t stop with simply mapping community groups. We have also sought to build an ongoing relationship with those groups through our “Community Development Offer”. This comprises support on a range of issues, with the most popular being help with promotion, in the form of local press releases, videos, social media and ‘showcasing’ events. By doing this, we have not only supported existing community groups, but also managed to inspire the emergence of new groups that are now flourishing and offering a warm welcome to our residents.
Social prescribing has transformed the way we work. What started as a simple mapping project has now snowballed into an ongoing collaboration with our residents on a wide range of initiatives. It has enabled our health and social care colleagues to take a more holistic approach, while for our team, it has really put the ‘public’ back into ‘public health’ work.
This was first published by the Centre for Mental Health (2016)