A £3 million National Lottery grant will extend a successful social prescribing scheme to at least 100 GP practices across Northern Ireland and Scotland.
The Bogside and Brandywell Health Forum in Derry, which started two years ago as an integrated care partnership pilot in two practices, has been awarded the funding to roll out the scheme over a three-year period.
It is expected that more than 9,500 patients will be referred to the programme which aims to reduce pressure on GPs while improving patient health.
The pilot which now serves 15 practices was aimed at older people where GPs could refer them to take part in community schemes to get more active, reduce isolation and cut dependence on medication.
Now GPs with access to the scheme will be able to refer any adult they think needs additional social support.
The lottery grant will mean at least 60 practices across Northern Ireland and 40 in Scotland will have access to the service which has already been shown to reduce repeat GP attendances.
Seamus Ward, general manager of Bogside and Brandywell Health Forum, said over the three years they intended to prove that the NHS needs to embed such schemes.
He added that the lottery funding would enable them to show what can be done on a big scale.
‘Many GPs have patients who are making regular unnecessary appointments because they don’t know where else to go.
‘So we are taking the pressure off the GPs and making more time for them to see people who need medical care.’
He added: ‘Through the pilot GPs fed back that the number of people returning for non-medical care was being reduced.
‘It’s less strain on their services, and waiting lists for appointments are being reduced.’
He added that the project can easily be scaled up as they are working in partnership with the Healthy Living Centre Alliance in Northern Ireland and Scottish Communities for Health and Wellbeing.
Dr Tom Black, chair of BMA’s Northern Ireland GP Committee said there is a gap between what GPs can provide and what patients need.
‘We are really pleased to see additional funding being awarded to the social prescribing project.
‘Many patients who come through our door do not need medical or nursing care, but would benefit from being linked-in with other community services.
‘For older patients this may help them to live independently for longer, and for other patients we can direct them to emotional support, advice, or a listening ear.’