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Social prescribers in austerity town help improve public health, study finds

Public health in Wigan has improved due to social prescribers, despite austerity cuts for almost ten years, according to a think tank. 

The King’s Fund recently published a report looking into the policies implemented by Wigan council to improve public health despite cuts of £140m since 2011. 

It found that healthy life expectancy increased – bucking the stagnant England-wide figures – and CQC assessments improved in the area. 

Healthy life expectancy went up 31 months in women and 19 months in men between the period 2015 and 2017, compared to a two month drop in women across England, and a five month increase for men across England. 

The report commended the council’s ‘ambitious’ approach and suggested working in an ‘asset-based’ way could be rolled out to other parts of the NHS.

It said: ‘Local authorities and NHS organisations have an important opportunity to work together to forge a new relationship with the public and agree a vision for health and care that harnesses the strengths of individuals and communities.

‘This kind of approach is likely to have the greatest possible impact when it becomes a shared way of working across all of the services operating in a place. A key question for the NHS is whether it is willing and able to adopt a culture that gives patients more control and allows frontline staff greater freedom to innovate.’

GP-practice based community link workers, also known as social prescribers, were introduced in Wigan in 2015.

The report states that Wigan has 16 full-time equivalent social prescribers working across Wigan and there are plans to double the number, which aligns with the NHS Long-Term Plan.

Wigan Council leader, councillor David Molyneux, said: ‘This report has highlighted some key lessons for public sector agencies across the country, while identifying areas for us to focus on in the next few years to fully embed the Wigan Deal, particularly at the citizen – state relationship level. I hope our transformation journey helps to inspire others.”

Wigan Council deputy leader councillor Keith Cunliffe said: ‘In its simplest form, that’s what the Wigan Deal is about – creating a culture of empowerment to draw on the strengths and assets of individuals and communities.’

Recently, GPs in Cardiff will be amongst the first to prescribe free bike hike for diabetes patients.

NICE has also suggested dementia patients should be prescribed social activities to ‘promote their wellbeing.’

Elsewhere, new research has found GPs do not take notice of pharmacist suggestions as they believe they are ‘unlikely’ to benefit patients.