Social prescribing - where GPs, nurses, social workers and other health and care professionals can refer people to local, community-based, non-medical support for issues which are impacting on their health and wellbeing - seems to be all around us at the moment.

Interestingly, for something that seems to offer a solution to the challenges facing health and social care, it produces some extreme responses from across all sectors, such as the NHS, councils and charities.

Many of the organisations providing support refuse to call their scheme social prescribing, finding it too clinical. To me a social prescription only describes the first stage of the process: the interaction between a link worker and an individual being supported. This interaction is not the activity itself, but merely the bridge into wider community support . It is this cross-sector community offer that is responsible for the life-changing outcomes that we are seeing with people now benefitting from social prescribing schemes.

We at The Bureau, a community wellbeing charity, are just reaching the two-year anniversary of our Community Navigation scheme. This scheme combines a social prescribing approach with working with key community services , including a Voluntary Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) sector grants programme. This grants programme has been key to its success: allowing resources to be passed onto the wider VCSE to build capacity, fill gaps and support innovation. We have now received close to 900 referrals from 60 different sources, ranging from GPs, district nurses, social workers to friends, family and self-referrals. These individuals have been supported by 80 different partners, sitting across all sectors.

The grants programme within this scheme was funded by the Partnershipthrough transformation funds and has supported nearly 30 VCSE organisations through nearly £85,000 worth of investment. After two years, there are an additional 12 groups offering support and enriching the community that did not exist before.

These groups have developed because the conditions are right. Passionate people from the community feel motivated to work with us to make the area they live in a better place. We have the figures from social prescribing which shows the need in certain areas; we then have the funding and expertise to respond to and support passionate members of the community to fill gaps and meet those local needs. We have examples of this around dementia support, COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder) walking and singing, mental health, and many more.

After experiencing the highs and lows of the last two years I have come to see social prescribing as so much more than its name. I have even started to appreciate the term. It has helped me to translate the value of my sector to my clinical partners, who find its messy vibrancy too unwieldy to navigate. It has been a catalyst for change, levelling the playing field between community organisations and statutory (NHS and council) organisations, as this time we are not going into this with cap in hand: remember we are bringing something that is ours, something we are specialists in that can’t be simply bought and can’t be taught.

This air time has enabled us to show the potential of our VCSE organisations; it has built trust and recognition of the value of our skills and expertise in improving the health of our population, by being best placed to support people – because we are those people.

Social prescribing is an initiative to help bridge two important and valuable worlds essential for the future health of local people. It’s my opportunity to help bring positive change to my community, whilst taking everyone with me in a way that’s meaningful and relevant to them. So, whoever I’m being today- a social prescriber or a community navigator I’m happy, because at least it’s centre stage for someone to need to call it anything at all.

Join us in the conversation on twitter at #GMCommunityWellbeing



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