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Council’s £35k scheme promotes ‘Men’s sheds’ to help save GP time

A local council in Suffolk has secured £35,000 to spend on a new social prescribing pilot including ‘Men in sheds’ and ‘knit and natter’ groups in a bid to cut GP workload in one area.

Suffolk Coastal district council said the scheme in the town of Leiston will help people with long-term conditions get non-medical support from local community groups.

It hopes this will reduce the pressure on both local GPs and A&E services ‘by encouraging people to think of alternative self-support…. rather than visiting their doctor’.

The scheme will promote alternatives to NHS services for drug and alcohol dependency, mental health issues, domestic violence and health improvement, as well as community groups such as ‘Men’s sheds, knit and natter groups, lunch clubs, choirs, keep-fit groups, diabetes support network and volunteering’, and ‘any other group that helps to address loneliness and isolation and improve community network support’.

The council said the funding comes from the Department for Communities and Local Government’s Community Fund, launched in late 2016, and would build on a similar project nearby in Lowestoft to assess its impact ‘in a more rural area’.

Nicole Rickard, head of communities at Suffolk Coastal District Council, said: ‘We hope with this funding, we can start to get people thinking about alternatives to visiting their doctor and by doing so, help them to take more ownership and control over their own health.’

Dr Imran Qureshi, GP at the Leiston Surgery, said: ‘The Leiston Surgery welcomes the introduction of this social prescribing pilot and believe it is a really positive development that will improve the health and wellbeing of local people.

‘Its introduction will help people in Leiston access the most appropriate help for their needs. The services of family doctors will still be available, but now there will be better signposting to other local projects which will support people, address their needs and give them the opportunity to get the best out of life.’

It comes as the Government is pushing for social prescribing to become central to GP practices’ approach, with NHS England’s recently appointed clinical lead on it calling for CCGs to get £1 per patient specifically to fund such schemes.

But a new paper published in the journal Public Health reports that a study in Ireland found a social prescribing had no impact on either GP appointments or prescriptions.

Some studies have claimed social prescribing does help to cut GP workload but a recent systematic review concluded that pilots have been inherently biased and poorly conducted so it is still not clear what impact the schemes are really having and whether they are cost-effective.