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GP leader appointed clinical champion for social prescribing

GP and former NHS Alliance chair Dr Michael Dixon has been appointed as NHS England’s national clinical champion for social prescribing, to advocate schemes that will help patients who are struggling with housing, debt and even loneliness.

The role will seek to make the case for social prescribing as a way to make GPs workload more manageable and effective, as well as disseminating lessons from areas where it has been succesfully implemented.

Dr Dixon told Pulse his largest task was to develop the evidence base for social prescribing and lobby CCGs and the Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) areas – which are currently making wide-ranging plans – for funding. 

Social prescribing aims to improve patients’ health through non-clinical interventions, typically the services provided by voluntary, community and charity organisations.

These can include self-help groups and financial services, but gardening clubs, arts groups and exercise have also been used as interventions.

Dr Dixon explained his Devon practice has been using social prescribing for several years, and ‘all over the country’ practices and commissioners had been developing programmes but ‘not talking to each other’.

The former NHS Alliance chair is part of a national steering group and network of 200 social prescribers that was set up in recent months.

He told Pulse that 20% of GP work had a social element in his practice, which has an in-practice social prescribing ‘link worker’ who can direct patients struggling with issues such as housing, debt, or even loneliness to appropriate local services for support.

Dr Dixon said: ‘My role is to make people aware that social prescribing can really help GPs to have a far more satisfying workload, and a much more manageable workload, and help patients more.

‘But the biggest task is in trying to collate examples and evidence that will enable me to fight the case for general practice, and funding for this to happen – in areas where it’s not.

‘If you go to Tower Hamlets – where chair Sir Sam Everington has pioneered this – the whole CCG is commissioning it for general practices. But not many of us are in that position. My CCG in Devon has a £500m debt.’

Public Health England announced earlier this month that they would be asking GPs to pilot a scheme in Manchester to help combat loneliness in elderly people.