Traditional ideas about “going to the doctors” are changing as a result of a new initiative in Central Bedfordshire  Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Traditional ideas about ‘going to the doctors’ are changing as a result of a new initiative in Central Bedfordshire

Research has found that around half of GP appointments aren’t related to medical conditions. So, rather than directing people to medication, doctors in a pilot scheme are now prescribing alternative solutions to help people to get, and stay, well.

Solutions that help people to be active and happy are shown to have a positive impact on health. Advising someone to enrol in art class, learn a bit of ballroom dancing or join a “knit and natter” group can be more effective than directing them to the local chemist.

Social prescribing”, as the approach is called, is being trialled in some GP surgeries in Central Bedfordshire.

This approach is led by Bedfordshire Rural Communities Charity (BRCC) on behalf of its partners. It has been built on learning from interventions nationally where impacts on wellbeing are most effective through a pilot approach which enables ongoing learning and improvements.

GP Practices expressed an interest in being involved

BRCC went through a detailed process, considering a number of areas in order to identify the pilot practices across Central Bedfordshire.

These included social determinants of health, local logistics, availability of existing community assets, the location of existing active Village Agents and Good Neighbour schemes (as a means of embedding clients in community-based support) and the social prescriber resource available for each area.

Following the initial identification by BRCC, GP Practices themselves expressed an interest in being involved in the scheme.

Cllr Carole Hegley, Executive Member for Adults, Social Care and Housing Operations, said:

“Social prescribing may sound like a technical thing but at its heart it is both simple and common sense. Most of us know that when we feel under the weather, the tonic we need is to be taken out of ourselves – rather that to be taken as a spoonful of medicine or a tablet three times daily.

“We’re delighted to be working with the BRCC who have recruited Community Wellbeing Champions to develop personalised plans for people and to support them to turn these into action. The plans are designed to appeal to what each person is most likely to connect with and could include gardening, befriending or social groups.”

The service is free and available to adults who are experiencing issues affecting their mental health and wellbeing, where poor health is being caused by social isolation, lifestyle or other underlying issues, and are registered with participating GP surgeries in Central Bedfordshire.

Local man who found his life transformed

Using the story of a local man who found his life transformed by some simple social prescribing support, Cllr Brian Spurr, executive member for Health, said:

“I recently heard about Jim. A chap in his 50s who has been struggling with weight issues and diabetes as well as mental health problems caused by his medical conditions and social isolation.

“In talking through the issues, his GP decided that Jim would benefit from thinking differently about his lifestyle and set him up for a conversation with a wellbeing champion.

“She discovered that one of Jim’s passions was football and he had previously loved going to see Luton Town on a Saturday but had got out of the habit of doing so because of his health issues. With support from his Champion, Jim put together a plan that led him back to Kenilworth Road. This included him joining a ‘walking bus’ to his beloved football ground, meeting old mates and making new ones all of which made a huge difference to how he felt and his medical conditions.”

The GP practices taking part in the ‘social prescribing’ initiative:

Chiltern Vale:

Caddington Surgery

Kingsbury Surgery, Dunstable

Houghton Regis Medical Centre

Ivel Valley:

Ivel Medical Centre (Biggleswade)

Shefford HC

Sandy HC

Saffron Health Partnership

West Mid Beds:

Asplands Surgery & Woburn Surgery

Flitwick Surgery

Oliver Street Surgery

Leighton Buzzard:

Bassett Road Surgery

To find out more about the scheme – enquire at your local surgery or go to Central Bedfordshire Council’s website.

Cranfield and Marston Surgery was approached for a comment.