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Hundreds of thousands ploughed into GP social prescribing schemes

CCGs in England are investing hundreds of thousands into GP social prescribing schemes, Pulse has learned.

NHS Barnsley CCG is planning to spend close to one million over the next three years on a new scheme to be run by a local housing association.

Meanwhile, NHS Tower Hamlets CCG is expanding an existing social prescribing scheme by investing almost a quarter of a million pounds.

NHS Barnsley CCG has drawn up a contract worth £821,000 with the South Yorkshire House Association to run its new social prescribing scheme.

The scheme, which will launch from April, will see GPs able to refer patients who go to see their GP often with social, emotional or practical needs, where a prescription for medication would not help.

The housing association already runs a similar scheme in Doncaster, which claims to have reduced GP visits by 68%.

NHS Barnsley CCG said the scheme was launched in response to approximately a fifth of GP visits being estimated to be linked to non-medical issues such as loneliness, debt, housing, work, relationships and unemployment.

Under the new service, patients will see a social prescribing team, who will discuss with them what help or support is needed.

The type of support will range from putting people in touch with the local fishing club to getting advice on managing debt while also enabling people to manage their own health.

Dr Nick Balac, a local GP and chair of NHS Barnsley CCG, said: ‘We know from other areas that this type of support has the potential to reduce admissions to hospital and reduce the number of GP visits people need to make, but most importantly, to improve the health and wellbeing of the participants.’

Meanwhile, NHS Tower Hamlets CCG is spending £240,000 on expanding its existing social prescribing scheme run out of the Bromley by Bow Centre.

The CCG said GPs would be able to use a single referral form that can be sent directly to a social prescribing co-ordinator.

A spokesperson said: ‘The idea is that patients of each practice should have access to some sort of social prescribing initiative through this funding.’

Dr Sam Everington, GP and chair of NHS Tower Hamlets CCG, said: ‘What we’re modelling is a referral form on the desktop of every GP, which will enable them to refer a patient, whether it’s for a housing issue or education or a job or whatever it is.’

He said the idea is ‘that GPs have at their fingertips a whole raft of people that can help them deal with these things, which quite often even patients will medicalise’.

The model is designed to help cut back on the number of patients ‘who come back time and time again’ by helping them ‘to take more ownership and control over their own health’, he added.

Social prescribing on the rise

According to the Marmot Review in 2010, around 70% of health outcomes are determined by social factors, while just 30% are influenced by medical interventions.

Since then, NHS England has showed its support for GP social prescribing by calling for a greater emphasis on it in the GP Forward View and appointing Dr Michael Dixon as the organisation’s lead on social prescribing.

In that role, Dr Dixon, who employs a social prescribing co-ordinator in his own practice, has called for CCGs to get £1 per patient to fund a co-ordinator in every practice in England.

However, there have been recent studies that have cast doubt on the effectiveness of social prescribing.

In a review by York University, researchers said: ‘There is little in the way of supporting evidence of effect to inform the commissioning of a social prescribing programme.

They added: ‘Evidence on the cost effectiveness of social prescribing schemes is lacking.’

But just last month a scheme in NHS Gloucestershire CCG reduced GP and hospital workload by a fifth and saved £1.69 for each £1 invested in the programme.