A scheme which sees GPs prescribe support and activity to their patients is improving wellbeing across Leeds.
The innovative Social Prescribing initiative is available throughout the city to help tackle wider issues affecting health, such as people being isolated, or facing housing or money problems.
GPs have long been aware that often health issues are linked to other aspects of patients’ lives, but a typical 10-minute consultation is rarely long enough to draw out the sometimes complex underlying problems, which cannot always be treated through traditional medications. Family doctors also may not know what support organisations are available.
The projects - funded by NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups – involve teams of wellbeing co-ordinators who link the patients with activities and support which could help them.
For someone who is suffering from mental health problems such as anxiety, medication may not be the most effective way to treat them – referring them to services which can help with the root cause, or to services offering support or running activities, can help more.
Dr Andy Harris, clinical chief officer at NHS Leeds South and East Clinical Commissioning Group and a GP at Shaftesbury Medical Centre in Osmondthorpe, said: “As a Leeds GP, I have, for many years, frequently seen patients who are facing all sorts of issues that can affect both their physical and mental health and wellbeing.
“Often these are issues that can’t be treated by a traditional prescription for medications.
“Although my patients can usually describe to me what their problems are it has often difficult been for me to know how to ensure they get the best support.
“Things are now much better. The social prescribing teams in Leeds are doing a fantastic job because they are able to find the local support and community groups that are right for each individual’s needs and have dedicated time to make sure the patient can access them, and to monitor their progress and feed this back to me as their GP.
Patients may be referred to services which can help them cope with debt, find work, start training, boost their physical fitness, deal with substance misuse or access relationship support.
They may also be pointed towards leisure or creative groups which can especially help people coping with mental health issues or social isolation.
Dr Harris added: “Patients that have used the service so far have been able to get support with a whole range of issues, from financial problems, to loneliness and social isolation, to getting active.”
Three social prescribing services are running across Leeds to cover the city’s three Clinical Commissioning Groups.
In each of them, a patient is referred to the service or gets in contact themselves and their needs are then assessed through a phone call or meeting.
Service advisers are trained to unpick the underlying issues, some of which may have been kept hidden, and the patient is referred to services, groups or activities based on their needs.