Friday, July 19th, 2024

Social prescribing – what is it and does it work?

Did you know that when isolated or lonely people who have health problems are supported by community groups and individuals, the number of emergency admissions to hospital falls spectacularly? Lindsey Nathan from Close to Hand explains why it is time to ‘ditch the pills’ especially when it comes to older people

THERE is an argument that is building to ‘ditch the pills’ and opt instead for social interaction – that is for older members of the community who are displaying or suffering from symptoms of ‘loneliness’.

Social prescribing works by GPs providing patients with links to social, therapeutic and practical support offered by local voluntary and community organisations, rather than simply prescribing more pills.

Looking beyond traditional medicines
It’s a shocking fact that older people are twice as likely to be prescribed antidepressants as twentysomethings, with concerns growing that doctors are using drugs to treat loneliness.

Older people stand to benefit from the social prescribing approach, helping them maintain their independence for longer and strengthen connections with the communities around them.

Does social prescribing work?
We’re with the growing band of people who believe that meaningful human interactions are more powerful than any medication when it comes to alleviating the pain of isolation. Earlier this year, representatives from Close to Hand were invited to meet the Government team tasked with tackling loneliness.

When asked about how Close to Hand could have a measurable impact helping to deal with this crippling epidemic, we drew comparisons with the Compassionate Frome project, launched in 2013 by Helen Kingston, a GP there.

Provisional data from Compassionate Frome appears to show that when isolated people who have health problems are supported by community groups and individuals, the number of emergency admissions to hospital falls spectacularly. While across the whole of Somerset emergency hospital admissions rose by 29% during the three years of the study, in Frome they fell by 17%.

Similarly, a study of a social prescribing scheme in Rotherham (a liaison service helping patients access support from more than 20 voluntary and community sector organisations), showed that for more than eight in 10 patients referred to the scheme who were followed up three to four months later, there were reductions in NHS use in terms of accident and emergency (A&E) attendance, outpatient appointments and inpatient admissions. The Bristol study also showed reductions in general practice attendance rates for most people who had received the social prescription.

There’s no doubt that having the right support and companionship at home can avoid costly – and possibly ineffective – crisis interventions for older people further down the line. Any approach that aims to support individuals to take greater control of their own health and wellbeing can only be a good move.


Who are Close to Hand?

Close to Hand is a locally-based online community that connects older people, or their relatives, with local people who can lend a helping hand. They make it easy to arrange help and companionship at the same time as enabling local people to find flexible work with a purpose. Close to Hand brings people together by building a community based on trust and support. They believe in good old-fashioned community spirit and at the same time use modern technology to bring people together. For more about the services Close to Hand offer go to:

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