HACT's Housing Intern David King discusses why housing providers are perfectly placed to help the healthcare sector deliver effective 'social prescriptions' to patients.
What do you do to counter the increasing medicalisation of society? Drugs and surgery may allow us to firefight health issues, but can leave us ill prepared in the long run. Over the years GPs have increasingly turned to social prescriptions. Rather than introduce medicine into society, doctors are recognising the medical benefits of society.
When GPs give out a ‘social prescription’ they link the patient to a wide range of activities, ranging from fishing trips to looking after pets. Driven by increasing patient lists and dwindling resources, as well as a desire to fully support their patients, four out of five GPs said surgeries should have access.
So what’s stopping implementation? Community groups need to be supported and made accessible to surgeries. That is no easy task when you consider that many community groups are volunteer run, and a deluge of new members would be crippling. One system that hopes to overcome these challenges is Breeze-e in Northamptonshire. Here the County Council have set themselves the ambitious target of creating the ‘Amazon’ for care and health services.
While there is a lot of evidence that social prescriptions improve quality of life, it is much harder to prove cost savings. People with long term conditions are unlikely to completely disengage from formal health and care services, but can make GPs more effective – an important benefit when the GP workforce is facing crisis. A cost effective and friendly way of supporting and organising community groups which can begin to quantify the impact of prescriptions is needed . But of equal importance are those clear routes through which prescriptions can be defined and delivered.
It is an area where housing associations may provide an answer. They are already embedded into the community, have access to organisational tools and are beginning to quantify the impact they are having through tools like HACT’s social value framework. And some are starting to convincingly set out their stall in the health space – this recent Placeshapers video setting out incredibly clearly the value that providers can bring to their communities around health and wellbeing.
Indeed, Placeshapers chair Tony Stacey is already testing the water at South Yorkshire Housing Association, where they are engaged in a scheme which allows GPs to give out social prescriptions for non-medical concerns. Let’s extend this sort of scheme to other housing associations and build a practical evidence base for mainstreaming social prescriptions, with social housing providers at the heart of their successful delivery.
 Which is exactly what the British Journal of General Practice calls for http://bjgp.org/content/61/586/350