GPs could prescribe lunch clubs and damp treatment to their patients as part of a more ‘holistic’ approach to commissioning, health secretary Jeremy Hunt has suggested.
Taking questions from the House of Commons health committee on healthcare spending, Mr Hunt said he finds it ‘interesting’ that GPs ‘are taking a broader view’ when deciding what to prescribe to patients. He went onto describe ‘social prescribing’ options which he said he did ‘not want to stand in the way of’ CCGs commissioning as GP prescribing options.
It comes as Pulse reported last week on GPs’ warning that cutbacks to social support was causing patients to become ill.
Mr Hunt suggested patients could be helped by CCGs commissioning services that addressed the ‘root cause’ of their health illness, which may be for example poor housing, having last week said CCGs should co-commission social care as well as primary care.
He told MPs today: ‘One of the things that I think is quite interesting is that GPs are taking a broader view of what the appropriate thing to prescribe is. We have seen a big growth for example in social prescription. Where GPs are saying that actually, the root cause of this person’s problems is isolation and loneliness and so effectively I am going to prescribe that you join a lunch club, or something like that, and make sure that you have company in your life. And I think we need to be open minded to CCGs who say actually this is the kind of thing that is going to help deal with the root causes.
‘There are other CCGs that look at look at housing problems. That have actually been sorting out the damp in somebody’s flat, because they realise that is the root cause of some of the problems they face. I think the NHS is taking a more holistic view of what it takes to address people’s medical problems than it did before, and I don’t think we want to stand in the way of that.’
The session also saw the chief executive of NHS England, Simon Stevens, quizzed by committee chair and former GP Dr Sarah Wollaston MP over the Northern, Eastern and Western Devon CCG’s announcement that it was going to tackle its deficit by rationing services to patients that are obese or smokers.
Asked whether he was supportive of the plans, Mr Stevens said NHS England ‘does have some reservations’ about the plans.
He said: ‘I know that there are pressures facing the CCG and rightly they need to respond to them… That said, we want to ensure, and they are obliged under the NHS Constitution, to ensure that patients get care where they can benefit from it according to reasonable criteria, and that there is proper consultation on any changes that are being made there, that the NHS Constitution provisions are in place. And so I think frankly we do have some reservations about the particular approach that has been proposed there.
‘I know that the CCG is reflecting on that in light of the public consultation and response. And so we will have to see what the decide but I would be surprised if that turns out to be the principle route to getting themselves ship shape going forward.’