GPs in East London are being encouraged to refer vulnerable elderly and dementia patients for animal handling sessions at a local city farm.
Tower Hamlets CCG has awarded a £9,000 bursary to Furry Tales, a service based at Stepney City Farm, to run a six-month pilot that started in September whereby GPs can refer patients for fortnightly sessions at the farm, or through outreach sessions held at residential homes.
Tower Hamlets CCG said on its website Furry Tales will ‘deliver therapeutic animal handling sessions to vulnerable older people in Tower Hamlets to reduce social isolation and improve mental and physical wellbeing’.
Furry Tales has two guinea pigs and two rabbits – Harvey and Splodge – as well as a Pekin Bantam, the Guardian reported.
Local GP Dr Dirk Pilat, from Bromley by Bow Health Partnership, told the paper he was already referring patients who tend to get limited benefits from conventional medicine.
He said: ‘We have unusually high levels of depression and social poverty in Tower Hamlets, both amenable to talking therapies. Contact with animals in a non-clinical setting in the presence of other clients might just reduce the barriers to chat about issues and make new friends.’
The CCG is also putting £20,000 into another new project – Tower Hamlets Friends and Neighbours – aimed at tackling loneliness and reducing inappropriate health service use through partnerships between GPs and social services.