Ben Smith, Policy Development Officer, Voluntary Action LeicesterShire (VAL)
In April 2015, West Leicestershire Clinical Commissioning Group (WLCCG) commissioned Voluntary Action LeicesterShire (VAL) to manage and deliver a social prescribing pilot based at the Rosebery Medical Centre in Loughborough. The aim of the pilot was to introduce a social prescribing service within a single GP practice and to provide some insight into the range of factors that are key to its implementation. West Leicestershire CCG also agreed to provide funding for the Voluntary and Community Sector services available through social prescribing to increase the sustainability of the service.
Volunteers at the centre of social prescribing model
VAL’s social prescribing model is based on volunteers from the Patient Participation Group (PPG) receiving referrals, meeting with patients at a social prescribing clinic in order to discuss what services may best meet their needs and then making direct referrals into those services. VAL provide training and on-going support for the PPG volunteers and are responsible for making payments to providers on an activity basis.
The volunteer-led model of social prescribing developed at Rosebery Medical Centre by Voluntary Action LeicesterShire (VAL) is unique in its design and implementation. Nationally, no other area has utilised volunteers from Patient Participation Groups (PPGs) to deliver social prescribing clinics.
Social prescribing aims to expand the options available in a primary care consultation, creating a formal way for primary care services to refer patients with social, emotional or practical needs to a variety of holistic, local, non-clinical services.
Strengths of social prescribing
The social prescribing pilot has established a person-centred support network led by patients. One of the great strengths of social prescribing is the time available to patients to discuss their issues; typical sessions last 30 minutes, in contrast to a 10-minute GP appointment. This length of time combined with the open ended nature of social prescribing clinics has created an initial support group that is much needed by the majority of patients, which can then grow into a holistic support network once patients have been referred to local VCS groups.
From the outset the pilot intended to utilise the Patient Participation Group (PPG) at Rosebery to hold the social prescribing clinics themselves. This has been achieved through scenario training and the use of the VCS directory developed and provided by VAL. A positive outcome from this has been the formation of a committed and well-trained PPG social prescribing team at Rosebery Medical Centre, who are enthusiastic and compassionate about helping patients at their practice.
Despite the short-term nature of the pilot, a significant outcome has been the confidence of the GPs to refer to the social prescribing clinics. The concept and model was received well by GPs at the practice and created a deep-rooted, long-term commitment to investing resources and time in Social Prescribing. All GPs at the GP practice have made referrals into the Social Prescribing service and Paul Hanlon, Practice Manager at Rosebery Medical Centre commented:
“My hope for social prescribing is that it will become as important as medical interventions. It will free up GPs focus more on chronic disease management and keeping people out of hospital”.
A longer-term outcome, yet one that has already started to be seen is the improvement of the healthcare economy in Loughborough. This has been achieved through the reduction of frequent, unnecessary primary care appointments and directing patients to services that can effectively tackle the issues they face. Paul Hanlon, Practice Manager at Rosebery, commented:
“Social Prescribing has the potential to free up 50% of capacity across Charnwood”.
Quantative and qualitative data is being collected to demonstrate the improvement in patients’ wellbeing and their reduced dependence on the GP practice.
Better access to support services and savings for the NHS
Finally, the pilot has produced evidence that the expansion of social prescribing over a larger area such as the North Charnwood Federation, could provide greater financial savings to the health services in West Leicestershire whilst providing patients with a broader range and number of community-based support services to improve their health and wellbeing.