A new £1m funding programme will see health professionals in Cornwall being able to ‘prescribe’ residents activities like volunteering, group learning, gardening, befriending, cookery, healthy eating advice and a range of sports to keep them safe, well and out of hospital.
Cornwall Council and voluntary sector partners, led by Volunteer Cornwall, have secured funding of £500K, topped up with £400K from the Council, to provide expert advice which looks at treating more than just a medical issue.
‘Social prescribing’ aims to improve peoples’ quality of life, and health and wellbeing by helping professionals to refer people to a range of local, non-clinical services which could range from community groups to healthy eating.
For example, social prescribing means a person who is under stress from debt could be referred for help to Citizen’s Advice for professional advice, to a local walking group to increase physical activity or to local community groups to increase time spent with others, reducing isolation.
Volunteer Cornwall is the lead partner in the project along with Active Plus, Age UK, Chaos Café, CN4C, Eden Project and Pentreath Ltd, who already work alongside GPs across Cornwall.
Twenty-nine GP practices will share the hosting of nine link workers each employed by the partner agencies. The workers will offer a tailored approach, identifying support or activities to improve patient wellbeing.
Adults over 18 years are eligible for the scheme, which also targets areas where there are higher levels of health inequalities.
There is strong support from GP practices in Cornwall for social prescribing who say many people with housing or benefits problems, lifestyle issues or are lonely are coming through their doors.
One advocate is a GP practice in St Austell, who has been running a social prescribing pilot since 2016.
Dr Stewart Smith from practice explained: “We have seen impressive results from introducing social prescribing into our practice. Our social prescriber can offer the time which GPs don’t have to discuss with patients what matters to them, and give them the confidence and support necessary to address difficulties in their daily life or make and sustain a change in lifestyle.”
Sally Hawken, portfolio holder for Children and Wellbeing & Public Health said “We all aspire to support a healthy Cornwall. Social prescribing has significant potential to help address underlying challenges to people’s health, such as social isolation and mental wellbeing.
“There is a range of emerging evidence which shows that social prescribing can lead to improvements in areas such as quality of life and emotional wellbeing, mental and general wellbeing, and levels of depression and anxiety and have also led to a reduction in the use of NHS services.
“These are all goals of our Shaping the Future strategy and it’s great to be delivering this in partnership with the voluntary sector, who are often closest to their own local communities and are vital to connecting people with community services.”
Andy Brelsford, Support and Development Manager for Volunteer Cornwall added: “One of the key features of this service is that it’s about your life and your choices. You get to choose what you are working towards and the team will draw upon all of the opportunities and activities available in the locality that can help you do that, whether this is about helping you get active and feel better, being more linked in with your local community, or resolving problems on issues such as money, benefits or housing.”