Social prescribing: Making health prevention a priority
Last year, the Prime Minister announced the NHS Long Term plan, which would aim to deliver better patient outcomes over the next ten years.
At the heart of the NHS Long Term plan, health prevention features heavily, stating that the NHS can take important action to ‘complement’ but not replace the role of local authorities and the contribution of government, communities, industry and individuals.
Prevention and Public Health
Now underway, the ‘renewed’ NHS prevention programme will focus on maximising the role of the NHS in influencing behaviour change with the aim of preventing 150,000 heart attacks, strokes and dementia cases in the next ten years.
Recognising that social prescribing will play a major part in the NHS Long Term Plan, Health secretary Matt Hancock said “I see social prescribing as fundamental to prevention. And I see prevention as fundamental to the future of the NHS. Prevention is about ensuring that people take greater responsibility for managing their own health. But focusing on the responsibilities of patients isn’t about penalising people. It’s about helping them make better choices, giving them all the support we can because we know taking the tough decisions is never easy.”
Prevention is Better than Cure
It’s clear that many of the causes of ill health are preventable. In total, over half of early deaths can be linked to social factors that we can change before they lead to diseases that need medical treatment or lead to the need for social care.
With health determined primarily by a range of social, economic and environmental factors, social prescribing has the potential to address such issues by seeking to address people’s needs in a holistic way and support individuals to take greater control of their own health.
“To ensure better health for populations and better distributions of health demands a refocus on health rather than on preventing specific diseases. Investing in ill health prevention, can, if implemented effectively, improve health and life expectancy as well as reduce spending over the long term.” – Making a difference in tough times: Coventry City: a Marmot City, Coventry City Council, 2015
The Role of Social Prescribing in Prevention
In a bid to conquer major health issues such as rising levels of obesity, mental illness, age-related conditions like dementia, as diabetes, asthma and arthritis, social prescribing offers a means for individuals to improve their physical and mental health through community based programmes and services such as exercise classes, mindfulness, smoking cessation groups and cookery lessons.
It seeks to address health inequalities, by tackling the root cause of health and social care problems, which often lie outside the NHS, enabling people to live happier, healthier and more independent lives. By engaging communities in non-clinical programmes and services, people are empowered with the knowledge, skills and confidence to take full control of their lives and their health and social care, making healthy choices as easy as possible.
In order to deliver the best possible health outcomes, social prescribing is a person-centred approach to health and wellbeing which focuses on community based support that will suit an individual’s needs and wants.
Creating Pathways for Prevention
Aiming to improve access to community-based assets and support the positive shift towards prevention, Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust has sought to create a sustainable infrastructure that empowers individuals and communities to discover and achieve new life and purpose.
As a leading mental health trust and one of only seven NHS England Mental Health Global Digital Exemplars, Mersey Care use Elemental’s unique digital technology to transform its referrals process through its Pathways Advisors, who are based at the Life Rooms and help people using the centre to identify help and support on issues including finding employment, housing, managing money and enrolling on Recovery College courses.
The aim of the partnership is to enable more people to engage with the Pathways Programme, provide them with more choice and to free up capacity for the Life Rooms team to help the people that need it. It will also enable Mersey Care to better monitor and track the progress and outcomes of the referrals it makes to understand the difference that its support is making to people’s lives.
Bringing together over 100 partners across the voluntary, statutory and private sector, the Life Rooms has worked to develop is a new model of community health care that empowers an individual to look for solutions to social problems before a crisis occurs.
A key feature of their work rests in creating opportunities for people to learn about their own health and wellbeing, with a recent evaluation demonstrating the impact of this model both in terms of people moving beyond services as well as a means of preventing people needing to access services in the first place.