Let’s not forget Social Prescribing in this reset
David Haslam argues that social prescribing may be needed now more than ever, given the devastating impact of the pandemic, not only on our physical health, but also on our mental health.
What’s the collective noun for the lockdowns that we’ve experienced over the past year? A Tedium? A Quaran-tedium? A Zoom? Let’s just hope that the coming weeks, months, and years don’t lead to lockdowns becoming a regular feature of our lives. It would be such a relief if they slowly fade from our memories.
As life for most of us gradually returns to a recognisable variety of normal, the health and social care system finds itself faced by yet another challenge. So many conditions have had to take second place in the queue for treatment, elbowed aside by the urgent demands of Covid-19. But they haven’t disappeared. The challenge of all those cancers, all those un-investigated neurological conditions, a veritable cornucopia of physical and mental health conditions, are all back in sight, hammering on the NHS’s door.
It simply isn’t good enough to wait for people to become ill and then throw the latest medical science at them. There has to be a better way.
If anything good has come out of the pandemic, it has been the long-delayed, and now unignorable, recognition of the true impact of poverty, deprivation, and all the other social determinants of health. Despite Michael Marmot’s crystal-clear warnings, successive governments have preferred denial rather than action. And whilst the back-breaking, soul-crushing, magnificent work carried out in our acute hospitals has been extraordinary, in every possible sense of the word, the remarkable achievements of the vaccination programme have clearly reinforced in everyone’s minds the primacy of prevention. It simply isn’t good enough to wait for people to become ill and then throw the latest medical science at them. There has to be a better way.
Part of that better way has to be social prescribing. Before everything went Covid-shaped, more and more attention was being given to this accelerating development in health and social care. As the old saying goes, to someone with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. To many of us working in healthcare, the key tools we have had are drugs, investigations, referrals. I recall so many of my own patients who presented with work stress, money worries, loneliness, and isolation. Most of the tools at my disposal simply weren’t what my patients needed. These are problems that cannot be fixed by medicine, or doctors, alone.
I recall so many of my own patients who presented with work stress, money worries, loneliness, and isolation. Most of the tools at my disposal simply weren’t what my patients needed.
That’s where social prescribing comes in. Social prescribing is a way for health professionals, such as social prescribing link workers based in a GP practice, to connect people to activities in the community for practical and emotional support. It’s in the NHS Long-Term Plan, and features prominently in the government’s loneliness strategy – and Covid-19 has certainly taught us that loneliness really matters.
At Kaleidoscope we’ve been fortunate to support some brilliant work in this area –with the British Red Cross we worked to identify the key features of social prescribing that effectively tackle loneliness and make recommendations on how to achieve them.
The Rethinking Medicine project brought together different programmes – everything from social prescribing to genomic medicine – from across the UK to rethink the way medicine is practised. The aim was to avoid replicating what is already going on, but to unify it and give it a much stronger voice. ‘Social prescribing’ might be one of those terms that still has the feel of an ‘optional extra’ to some, but the way that we think about medicine needs to catch up with our understanding of health.
This Thursday, 18 March, is International Social Prescribing Day. Whilst awareness days often seem mere marketing opportunities – National Pasty Day anyone? – the value and values of Social Prescribing need to be part and parcel of health and social care every single day – and not just for a single awareness day. But a day is certainly a good start….