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Social prescription pilot produces ‘amazing results’

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PRESCRIBING social activities for those struggling to connect with others could transform the lives of scores of Islanders and make enormous savings to the health budget, health professionals have said.

Doctor (26876852)

A project is currently under way which is being run as a partnership between two Island medical practices and government. It encourages individuals to take charge of their own lives by helping them develop social connections to support their wider mental health.

Taking up new interests and developing social connections in some cases offers an alternative to conventional treatment.

Dr Ed Klaber, lead for the project at the Health Plus practice, told the JEP that the pilot, which began last year, had already had ‘amazing results’ with his patient group.

‘Currently our way of treating people, particularly with mental health, has been that we’ve been pretty good at dealing with the biological and psychological aspects of mental health. However, we’ve fallen short on dealing with the social aspect’, he said.

His practice, working with the Cleveland Clinic, has secured a one-off grant of £35,000 from government to develop a programme of social prescription which works in a similar way to the the exercise referral scheme that subsidises the cost of exercise to help those with physical ailments.

The partnership with government has involved the secondment of Health Department mental-health professional Lee Bennett to work with the two GP practices and their clients to help connect them with organisations in the community, whether as volunteers, or participants in courses or other social activities. Mr Bennett told the JEP that those struggling with ‘the complexity of life’ often did find traditional approaches helpful.

‘When people find themselves in these circumstances – and it happens a lot with these type of issues – it’s not about being given something to take or told what to do, it’s about being given opportunities to grow as an individual and then you begin to change. For me, it’s about having the freedom to be with someone in a way that’s not about diagnosing but rather deciphering what’s going on.

‘That’s a cost-effective thing to do because when someone starts to self-manage, the savings to services are enormous and also the savings to that individual are enormous in getting back to their life and their family,’ he said.

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In the UK a national academy to support social prescription projects has just been established with government funding under the leadership of Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, former chairperson of the Royal College of General Practitioners, who visited Jersey last year at Dr Klaber’s invitation.

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock has recently said that his ambition is for every patient in the country to have access to social prescriptions on the NHS as readily as they do medical care.

In Jersey, the new pilot project secured a grant from funding available to encourage initiatives driven by primary-care providers working in partnership. It will enable small amounts of funding to be set aside to meet the costs of individuals taking part in social activities and also to support licences for an online platform for those who find one-to-one engagement more difficult.

St Helier Deputy Ines Gardiner, who spoke out in support of social prescribing last month, told the JEP that she welcomed the new pilot project and looked forward to a meeting this week to discuss the project and its scope with those involved.

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