Social Prescribing… what is it?
With the first Social Prescribing Day last week (14th March 2019), it has certainly pushed social prescribing even further into the spotlight within primary and community care. We have all heard of the term; I had heard about it around two years ago, but what exactly is it? What does it involve, and how does it benefit our patients? And what has ParkRun got to do with it all?
Social prescribing is the new kid on the block in the NHS, and is about getting patients to empower themselves, and look after their own health, wellbeing and social welfare. It is about utilising the myriad of community services available, but more specifically, involves clear signposting to navigate the labyrinth of the available services. Sure, it is an initiative designed to help patients, but ultimately it is incredibly useful for GPs, and here is why.
One particular difficulty I have had, with regards to community services, is the vast difference in them between areas, the ever changing names (take IAPT providers for example), and the differences in availability. This can be difficult enough for any primary care provider to manage if they have been rooted in the local community for some time. However with the declining popularity of staying put in partnership roles, and the increasing attraction of locum and salaried positions, more and more GPs are moving around and working in different parts of the country. With each move will come a steep learning curve of knowing which services are available, what the most recent contact details are (because let’s face it, apart from changing names frequently, many of these community services also update their contact details, rendering the majority of our waiting room posters and leaflets out of date). This is just one facet of how social prescribers can really help out the GP.
The role of the social prescriber is to link NHS services, local community services and the voluntary sector together, and to signpost patients towards appropriate support. These are people we can refer our patients to, particularly the complex and those with chronic and ongoing needs, and they can be signposted to relevant services. And as this is their predominant role, they will know their stuff, have up to date contact details, and we won’t have to rely on out of date posters or blind Google searches.
Social prescribing is not just for the social prescribers, however. The aim of last week’s Social Prescribing Day was to both highlight these new members of the primary care team, but to also highlight the need for practitioners to review their knowledge of their own local services themselves. Of course, we cannot be expected to know every single service, but are expected to know about the core ones, and be actively promoting these to our patients where appropriate.
And this is where Parkrun comes in. Last year, Parkrun joined forces with the RCGP to produce ‘Parkrun Practices’. These are GP practices which are linked to their local Parkrun event, and actively promote the benefits to both staff and patients. What better way to incorporate social prescribing, free exercise, and community building?!
I have taken it upon myself to become the Parkrun representative within my practice, and have been attending the practice’s local Parkrun event (unfortunately not my local one) for the past few weeks now. With the help of the RCGP Parkrun toolkit (link) I have produced posters, flyers and slides for the waiting room TV screen to actively push the benefits of Parkrun on patients and staff. Although I am just getting this off of the ground, there has been a fairly positive response from both staff and patients so far, so watch this space.
On my first visit to the Basildon Parkrun event, it was a windy and wet Saturday morning, and yet there was a great turnout of over 200 participants, and I believe over 25 volunteers. This was my first outdoors run in several months, so was a challenge, but certainly an enjoyable one. I think I completed the full 5k within 28 minutes, which although not my best time, was still a great achievement. Afterwards, I met with some of the course organisers to introduce myself, and got to hear about some of the success stories of some of the participants and volunteers which were very inspiring. One lady had overcome her longstanding social anxiety by volunteering every week, and there were countless runners who had lost the pounds and slimmed down simply by running 5k every week and adopting a healthier lifestyle.
The mental health benefits of Parkrun hadn’t dawned on me until I had spoken to the organisers. With the ever rising prevalence of mental health problems within our community, it isn’t just the overweight patients who we should be directing to Parkrun. Those having difficulty with stress, low mood, anxiety, bereavement, those stopping smoking, those with high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoporosis, COPD, fibromyalgia… the list is endless. Or simply those without illness, but who fall into the ever-growing group of those living with chronic loneliness. Parkrun provides a sense of community and a sense of purpose, so can help tackle loneliness.
We all need to utilise our social prescribers, so ensure you find out how to contact your local service, and how to direct your patients there. As with any NHS service, if you don’t use it, you lose it. And I strongly feel social prescribers will be needed more and more, year on year with our ever growing elderly population and those living with chronic disease. But also, take the social prescribing challenge. Apart from your core services you frequently signpost to (in my case, IAPT, alcohol liaison services and smoking cessation), pick two or three other local services or charities, and actively promote these to your patient population. Your patients will thank you for it.
Catch my latest tweets about social prescribing and Parkrun below: