It is now two years since Greater Manchester’s Population Health Plan set out our vision for a health and care system that is based on person and community-centred approaches. Central to this is how our health and care services are looking to support people’s wider health and wellbeing, focusing on the whole person, their life and circumstances and not just treating people for a particular illness.

Social prescribing is one approach we have been developing across the region to tackle this – where GPs, nurses, social workers and other health and care professionals can now refer people to a range of local, community-based, non-medical support for issues which are impacting their health and wellbeing.

Following the recent publication of the NHS 10-Year Plan it seems that everyone is now talking about social prescribing. The plan sets ambitious targets to scale up and embed social prescribing across every part of England. NHS England has followed this up with a more detailed set of proposals to create a genuinely personalised approach to care in the NHS.

In Greater Manchester we have been embracing this approach for some time.  We want to know that anyone, anywhere in our city region can benefit from social prescribing.  One thing we’ve learnt in Greater Manchester is that community groups and local voluntary sector organisations know their communities better than anyone.

Their staff and volunteers, often drawn from those same communities, provide much needed support groups, activities and services. They might include physical activity, arts-based therapy, community groups tackling loneliness, peer support from someone with a similar experience, help with practical problems like transport, or advice around debt management.

This is what social prescribing helps connect people into; it is the glue that will strengthen the join between public and voluntary/community sector services and support.

Central to our vision, under the devolution agreement now in place across Greater Manchester, is the full integration of all public services. Our city region is divided, across our ten boroughs, into 68 networked areas (each with a population of around 30-50,000). GPs and other health and care professionals are central to these networks, but so are many other sectors and services, such as the police, housing, education and the fire and rescue service.

The guiding principle around which they are coming together is not only integration but also being genuinely person and community-centred in their approaches: recognising the assets that exist in our communities and drawing on the strengths that people already have, both individually and collectively.

Community groups, charities and local voluntary sector organisations have long provided services and support that improve people’s health and wellbeing, enabling them to prevent or delay the onset of ill health and maintain their independence for longer.  People can access this support directly without social prescribing.

But social prescribing now provides another route, making it easier for public sector staff to help people find the support they need in the community, tailored around their personal circumstances and in line with their own goals, interests and motivations.  Social prescribing is not just about the link workers or community navigators that help people connect with this support, vital though they are; we must also contribute resources to help voluntary organisations and community groups to grow and thrive.

We have many great examples of social prescribing supported by Greater Manchester, such as that of Roy, who having faced serious mental health challenges for most of his adult life is now positive about his future again thanks to receiving a ‘social prescription’ .

Our challenge is to ensure that person and community-centred approaches, such as social prescribing, becomes the norm, and to ensure we increase our support to the voluntary sector organisations and community groups that make it possible.

Join us in the conversation on twitter at #GMCommunityWellbeing

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