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What is social prescribing and how does it work in Stamford?

A third of people have no one they can talk to beyond saying ‘good morning’ - and this can have a devastating effect on the quality and length of life they will lead.

Dr Dan Petrie, a GP with Lakeside Healthcare in Stamford, is well aware of the scale of this issue.

He is among those helping people to re-engage with the community and make links with others that will improve their lives.

Dr Dan Petrie. Photo: Louise Goss
Dr Dan Petrie. Photo: Louise Goss

“A significant number of people are lonely, and being socially isolated means you are more likely to die young than someone who smokes 15 cigarettes a day or someone who has diabetes,” he said.

While this might seem a depressing statistic, it is the reason a ‘social prescribing transformation programme’ begins in Stamford and Bourne in April, with the aim to help more people explore what they want out of life - and how they can achieve it.

Defining ‘social prescribing’ and why it has become so important, Dr Petrie is keen to spell out the limitations of being a GP.

Groups such as Stamford Flower Club welcome new members to join them through social prescribing. Pictured is club member Yvonne Wagstaff putting the finishing touches to a display in the town last year.
Groups such as Stamford Flower Club welcome new members to join them through social prescribing. Pictured is club member Yvonne Wagstaff putting the finishing touches to a display in the town last year.

“The basic premise around social prescribing is that doctors do not create health,” he said.

“Health is being out there in the community. It is people having inter-personal connections. It is about people having a life they are enjoying because they are connected with others in the community. They are then able to flourish and thrive.

“That is not something we can create or fix in a GP surgery.

“Social prescribing is challenging a whole culture we have created over the past 20 to 30 years that your doctor will be able to ‘fix that problem’ for you.”

GPs such as Dr Petrie do not see social prescribing as a panacea, but as a diverse and effective option that provides people with alternatives to taking medications such as antidepressants.

The alternatives, made possible by ‘social prescribing link workers’, help people to set a goal and take small steps over a 12-week period to achieve it.

Starting with a phone conversation with a social prescribing link worker, this might develop into going for a walk and a talk, meeting with others virtually or in person, or joining a group or club.

Anna Patrick, a social prescribing link worker with Lincolnshire Community and Voluntary Service, says she and their small local team have helped hundreds of people over the past two years, ranging from people experiencing anxiety or low self-esteem through to those living with complex mental health needs. The possibilities of what the ‘social prescription’ could look like is as varied as the people they are for.

“To give an example, we might be contacted by someone who is having difficulty leaving their house because they feel anxious,” said Anna.

The MindSpace allotment in Stamford is due to launch soon
The MindSpace allotment in Stamford is due to launch soon

“Speaking with that person, we help them to establish a goal - which might be to go into town and have a coffee. We would then meet up with them and go for a walk and a talk near their home - to the end of the road and back - and build it gradually from there.”

Most people receive help over 12 weeks to reach their goal, but they can come back to the service at any time should they need to.

“Social prescribing link workers have the time to spend discussing what matters to the individual,” said Dr Petrie.

“Unfortunately, healthcare is expensive, and if you see a GP they have 10 minutes for your appointment. What many people need is more time.”

Dr Petrie said the question link workers ask when they meet someone for the first time is not ‘what is the matter?’ but ‘what matters to you?’

“Saying ‘what is the matter?’ allows people to devolve responsibility, whereas ‘what matters to you?’ opens up what that person wants.

“Social prescribing is not the end goal. It is a way to get people plugged back into the community, and link workers are the bridge to that.”

In some cases, the link worker will help a person connect by introducing them to groups which are already active in the community.

'Boxing for Wellness' was an activity people could join in with before the pandemic
'Boxing for Wellness' was an activity people could join in with before the pandemic

These include the U3A, which offers activities for semi-retired and retired people, MindSpace, a charity which Dr Petrie helped to set up that has groups interested in crafting, gardening, walking and more, Stamford Ramblers, Stamford Flower Club and a befriending group.

The link worker can go along to a class or club with someone for the first session, then gradually allow them the space to get to know other people there.

Part of what the social prescribing link workers do is find out what is available locally - they map out what is offered in the community - and can help to introduce people to one or more groups or activities that will help them to have a life they can start to better enjoy.

To Dr Petrie, the support of the community in being there for others is important.

“Between 30 and 40 per cent of people say they have no close friends or just one close friend, so we need to rebuild interpersonal relationships and have strong, connected neighbourhoods.

“We can all play a part in this, by being a good neighbour - even in a pandemic - and that can start with a conversation.

“Most people want the opportunity to talk, and a positive way into this is by asking not ‘how are you?’ but ‘what’s gone well for you this week?’ That way the conversation challenges negative thinking.

“As a doctor, social prescribing moves us away from the medical model of treating patients and instead considers those we see as people with lives. We need to be making sure each person’s life is all it can be.

“Knowing that you can provide something as an alternative to medication is great. Having that option is key. By the time someone comes to their GP, they are often quite desperate and if we only have medication available, that can be dehumanising.”

Dr Petrie describes current thinking on people’s mental health as a ‘bio-psycho-social model’. The biological part is the brain and might involve medication, the psychological side could involve methods such as talking therapies, and the sociological side relates to making connections in the community.

“They are all equally valid and can all be part of the solution which helps a person move forward in their life,” Dr Petrie explained.

  • People aged 18 or over can self-refer to a social prescribing link worker by calling 01205 314479 or by emailing: lincolnshirecvs.socialprescribing@nhs.net
  • Activity groups which could support social prescribing by inviting new people to join can also get in touch.

Stamford Health Education and Awareness Charity is hosting a Zoom talk on social prescribing by Lincolnshire Community and Voluntary Service on Monday (March 15) from 2pm. Evergreen Care Trust and Healthwatch Lincolnshire will also give talks.

To register click here or email: info@stamfordheacharity.com

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