How the NHS in south west London is helping change lives through social prescribing 

Social prescribing is changing the landscape of care in NHS South West London by bringing together a wide range of organisations to help people live healthier and fulfilling lives.

A one-size-fits-all health and care system simply cannot meet the increasing complexity of people’s needs and expectations. This is where social prescribing comes in.

Designed to support people with a wide range of social, emotional or practical needs, social prescribing has been shown to significantly improve quality of life, physical and emotional wellbeing, and help those with depression and anxiety.

Many schemes focus on improving mental health and physical wellbeing. Those who could benefit include people with mild or long-term mental health problem, those with complex needs, or who are socially isolated, as well as people with multiple long-term conditions

There are different ways of providing social prescribing, but it can include the involvement of GPs, pharmacies, fire service, police, hospitals, voluntary and  community organisations who can refer people to ‘link workers’. 

Link workers are trained to provide specialist support to those who need more than just medical care. By spending time with a person, they can help them to identify things that may be holding them back and then connect-up with organisations and activities in their community.

Schemes which deliver social prescribing can involve a range of activities that are typically provided by voluntary and community sector organisations. Examples include volunteering, arts activities, group learning, gardening, befriending, cookery, healthy eating advice and a range of sports.

James Moore is a Link Worker who works with Croydon NHS Trust and Croydon Voluntary Action linking people to organisations that can help improve a person’s health and well being.

James gave us an example of his work:

“Between October 2019 until January this year, I have received around 12 referrals a day not only from GPs, but from pharmacists, nurses, social workers, housing associations, community groups, voluntary sector organisations, council officers, local councillors, residents’ associations and others!

“Just recently, a gentleman was referred to me through a GP. He had some mental health problems as he had suffered a bereavement – his mother, who also had some mental health problems, had hoarded her house to a state where it was not healthy to live in. He also didn’t have a job at the time and was struggling to meet the rent with his welfare benefits.

“Through my role, we were able to identify some different welfare streams for him to get. We also found a local food bank that could support him and his two cats. We were able to tap into some residents’ associations who were willing to help with the removals because there was no budget to support him to get rid of all the things in the house and garden. So, we were able to find what was working in the community to get him back on his feet again.

“Just six-months to a year later; he had applied for jobs, paid off some of his rent arrears, and his house and garden were completely clean. It was a great opportunity for us to learn how to help a resident at their own place!”