An Integrated Care Partnership initiative offers ‘social’ solutions to older people in the Western area who have social, emotional or practical needs.
Many older people may suffer from loneliness, bereavement and anxiety, but rather than use medication they are now getting the opportunity to link up with a range of activities within their local community.
The initiative is funded by the Western Local Commissioning Group (LCG), designed by the Western Integrated Care Partnerships (ICPs) and delivered by the Bogside and Brandywell Health Forum. The programme has brought together the healthcare professionals, voluntary and community representatives, service users and carers involved in making the project happen.
Initially piloted in two GP practices, the scheme – which targets frail people over the age of 65 – has now been extended to 15 practices across Derry, Strabane, Castlederg and Omagh; with GPs referring over 300 frail elderly people to date to a dedicated social prescribing co-ordinator.
The coordinator undertakes an initial assessment and discusses suitable options including social clubs, physical activity, self-help groups, volunteering, learning, counselling, and advice and guidance services. The coordinator supports the older person to access the necessary services and reviews progress.
As part of the Ministerial plan to reduce growing waiting lists for planned operations and outpatient appointments, social prescribing has been highlighted as an integral part of a range of interventions available to health professionals to help keep people well in their local community.
One of those to benefit from the initiative is service user Lily Leonard, who had suffered a number of health issues, had started to lose weight and stopped driving.
After being referred by her GP, she started to participate in exercise classes; her strength and nutrition improved, she joined a social club and has started to drive again.
“My mobility was quite bad, but I’m back driving and back out again and with people. I would recommend social prescribing to anyone; it has been very good,” she said.
Seamus Ward, Programme Manager for the Bogside and Brandywell Health Forum, said a number of opportunities had emerged connected to the programme.
These include a Public Health Agency-funded online tool allowing GPs to refer, monitor and evaluate their patients and Big Lottery funding to write a business case to replicate the social prescribing programme in other areas.
It is also hoped that more people will be able to avail of the programme if it is extended to those with long term conditions, regardless of age.
“Collectively working together has been shown to enhance services in the north west area and it has also recognised that the voluntary and community sector are professionals who can deliver, “ he said.
GPs who take part in the initiative have been positive about the experience.
In an evaluation report one said: “They (patients) get a lot of benefits from exercise, helping improve their physical health; but also from the social network and getting out and interacting with different people instead of being stuck indoors all day”. Another said they would “definitely recommend” it to other GPs, and possibly district nurses as well.
Dr Laura McDonnell, GP and Clinical Lead for the Western Integrated Care Partnerships, said it had recognised the physical and mental impact of social isolation among frail, older people and wanted to look at ways of addressing it.
“This initiative recognises that by joining with our local commissioning colleagues, local GPs and community and voluntary partners, we can make a real difference to enhancing older people’s health and wellbeing and help them live as full and healthy a life as possible.
“The Integrated Care Partnerships in the Western area are unique among the ICPs in contracting with voluntary and community groups to deliver a range of services and we have found it has been a mutually beneficial relationship, “ she said.
Dr Ciaran Mullan is Chair of the Western Local Commissioning Group , which funded the initiative.
He said the programme was able to improve the quality of life of older people and provide practical support by signposting people to the broad range of services provided by the community and voluntary sector.
“GPs and other health and social care providers are not always aware of the full range of community and voluntary services available and the Social Prescribing programme allows the provision of one single point of contact”.
“The initiative underlines the Western Local Commissioning Group’s commitment, in collaboration with the Western ICPs, to delivering more services at home and in the community to ensure we can keep people well in their local communities,” he said.