Somerset ‘social prescribing’ gets financial boost

Health services in Somerset are set to forge stronger links with the voluntary and community sector after a £60K financial boost helps ‘Social Prescribing’ take a leap forward.

‘Social Prescribing’, as described by the NHS, links people with health problems into practical and emotional support in communities and the voluntary sector.

Participants meet with a professional to identify which ongoing practical, emotional and community support can best help them achieve their goals.

A recent £30k development grant from the Life Chances Fund, matched by £30k from the South West Academic Health Science Network (SW AHSN), and ongoing investment by the Richmond Group of Charities and Somerset partners, will enable further involvement of local people, professionals and technical advisors into the design of plans going forward.

Somerset County Councillor and Chair of the Health and Wellbeing Board,  Councillor Christine Lawrence, said: “This is excellent news for Somerset.  We welcome the award of the development grant, which enables us to move the project forward to a development stage.  It marks an important next step in the shared commitment in Somerset to work together to build community resilience and improve the wellbeing of our population across the statutory, voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sectors.”

The development phase will take place over the next five months and the project team will coordinate with the existing social prescribing approaches in some parts of the county, as well as other local Life Chances Fund projects. In particular plans are being laid to ensure that people and communities are at the heart of development.

Liz Simmons, the co-ordinator of the Somerset VCSE Strategic Forum, explained that “this is a great opportunity for the local voluntary and community sector to be involved in the future design and delivery of health and care services across Somerset.  We look forward to working with a range of people, communities and organisations across Somerset to progress plans over the coming months.”

For GPs and other healthcare professionals the project creates an opportunity to reliably and easily connect with consistent community and voluntary sector resources in their locality, thereby helping professionals provide a wider offer to those patients least able to help themselves.

Dr Will Harris, a Somerset GP and Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group’s Primary Care Clinical Lead, said:  “Somerset’s GPs welcome this funding to develop a local approach to ‘social prescribing’. Although family doctors support people with their day-to-day health needs, good health and wellbeing is not just about the absence of illness. GPs want to work with the voluntary sector and communities to address the social, emotional or practical needs in people’s lives and ‘social prescribing’ has been shown to offer a practical and effective way of addressing everything from loneliness to improving diet and physical activity.”

The award of the grants follows a successful bid to the Life Chances Fund, which was headed up by Macmillan Cancer Support on behalf of the Richmond Group of Charities and Somerset partners.

The bid built on proposals accepted by the Somerset Sustainability Transformation Partnership from the Richmond Group of Charities about social prescribing as an area for potential impactful collaboration between the VCSE and statutory sectors, along with work by Somerset County Council about the importance of strong communities for health and wellbeing.

The Richmond Group’s Partnership Director, Charlotte Augst said “we are delighted that more than a year’s worth of discussions, investment and research with Somerset partners now means we have ensured substantial backing for this landmark VCSE-led collaborative project in Somerset. Only by continuing to work together can we really make a difference and improve the lives of the 250k people in Somerset living with long term conditions.”

With the support from the Life Chances Fund and the SW AHSN, partners are committed to exploring the feasibility of an outcomes-based approach, potentially backed by social investment, to enable county-wide roll out of this promising initiative.

Jonathon Gray, Chief Executive of the South West Academic Health Science Network, said: “This is an exciting opportunity to develop a different model of care, which will bring partners together to focus on the outcomes that matter for people managing a long-term illness.”

If feasibility is proven, partners will then be eligible to make a more substantial application to the Life Chances Fund for a contribution to the costs of county-wide roll-out of this new way of working.

Ultimately the aim is to catalyse a fundamental change in the way citizens and professionals view, receive and deliver health and care across the county, ensuring people can live their lives as well as possible for as long as possible.

If you would like to find out more, or be involved in the next phase of the project, please contact the Richmond Group Somerset Programme Manager aimiecole@mac.com.