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Social prescribing in Waltham Forest is just what the doctor ordered!

Cooking classes, housing help, volunteering opportunities and money advice are turning out to be just what the doctor ordered in Waltham Forest.

To date, nearly 1,500 people have been supported by the borough’s social prescribing service since its inception in 2016.

More than 80 per cent of people were put in touch with the service by their GPs, recognising that they might benefit from support with non-medical issues affecting their wellbeing.

Money, debt problems and social isolation are among the most common reasons cited by those receiving help.

John (not his real name) was referred to social prescribing by his GP after moving to Waltham Forest from outside London. He had financial worries and did not know anyone in the area.

John said: “I was referred into Citizens Advice and they supported me to tackle my financial problems, including taking me through the option of a debt relief order as a way of getting out of debt.

“Following that success, I accepted a referral onto a cooking course that helped people to cook on a budget.

“Social prescribing has given me a lot of encouragement and confidence and has helped me to improve in a lot of social and economic aspects of my health.”

Service extended for care leavers

The successful social prescribing service is now being extended to support young people (aged 17-25) leaving care. 

In recognition of the challenges faced, Waltham Forest’s Better Care Together programme has agreed funding to ensure access to the social prescribing service is part of every care leaver’s health offer from April 2019.

Dr Anwar Khan, a local GP and Chair of NHS Waltham Forest Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), said: “More often than not, as GPs we see patients who have social, emotional or practical needs that are better met by social prescribing than with medical treatment or a prescription.

“By helping nearly 1,500 people onto the path of better physical and mental health, Waltham Forest’s social prescribing service is just what the doctor ordered.”

Social prescribing is key feature of the NHS Long Term Plan, which says that nationally “within five years over 2.5 million more people will benefit from ‘social prescribing’”.  

The Waltham Forest social prescribing service is currently a telephone-only service

It was set up in 2016 in response to growing evidence that nearly half of GP appointments were not directly related to medical conditions.

It is part of Waltham Forest’s managed network of care and support, which was developed through partnership working between the council, the CCG and the Better Care Together programme.

When a medical solution is deemed unsuitable or unnecessary, GPs and other health and care professionals can suggest to a person that they might benefit from the Waltham Forest social prescribing service. 

If they agree, a social prescriber will make contact to help them access suitable non-clinical opportunities and sources of support; these are generally delivered by voluntary and community groups in Waltham Forest. 

Cllr Naheed Asghar, cabinet member for Health and Voluntary Sector Partnerships said: “Social Prescribing offers help to residents whose well-being and mental health are affected by issues for which medical solutions are unsuitable or unnecessary.

“The Social Prescribing Service will allow residents to take part in activities in the community, encouraging them and helping them gain more confidence, and overall improving their health and well-being.

“By delivering this service we’re hoping to provide a more targeted support for those struggling with issues GPs wouldn’t be able to resolve. This is part of our commitment to improve life chances for all the residents in Waltham Forest.”

Senior Social Prescriber Sharon Hanooman explained to patient representatives at this month’s (February) CCG Patient Reference Group meeting that the Waltham Forest social prescribing model was delivered over the phone only as an ‘enhanced’ signposting service by two social prescribers, whereas other similar services offered face-to-face or a mix of telephone and face-to-face support.

Support available through social prescribing in Waltham Forest includes:

  • benefits and debt advice
  • opportunities to become more active or increase healthy eating
  • access to local groups such as art classes or gardening sessions
  • connections with local befriending or volunteering schemes
  • training to help build confidence or move into work
  • assistance with a cold or under-heated home or other housing issues.