Thousands of people in the city are being guided to non-medical help for their ailments by GPs as part of an expansion of so-called social prescribing.
Walking groups, debt management advice, lifestyle classes and support groups to help with loneliness are among the schemes helping around 4,000 people a year in Leeds.
And people are being asked for their views on how the system is working ahead of changes to the delivery of social prescribing. It follows a decision by the city’s three Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) to merge.
A Leeds CCG spokesman said: “The contracts for the three services are due for renewal in 2019 and, as part of the CCG merger the revised service will be delivered as a citywide service offering a single referral route.
“To help us develop a service specification for the citywide service, we are seeking the views of local patients as well as health and care professionals.
“We want to know more about their thoughts on what should be offered in the future and, for those that have already accessed social prescribing, we want to know more their experience of the service.”
As part of social prescribing, a link worker spends time with the patient following GP referral to assess their needs and agree a plan to improve their health. The social and emotional help is often provided by voluntary and community groups.
The CCG spokesman added: “The advisor will find out what’s affecting an individual and the services in the community that could be better placed to help them. For example, this could range from walking groups, healthy lifestyle classes, debt management and support groups set up to tackle loneliness.”
Dr Gordon Sinclair, Chairman of Leeds CCG and a GP at Burton Croft medical centre in Headingley, said: “As a GP, I see patients with a wide range of complex issues, not all of which are medical but that may be impacting their health.
“If someone is very worried about debt or is feeling isolated, they may have physical symptoms that I can treat but the underlying cause won’t go away and their overall health and wellbeing may not improve. Being able to refer them to a debt management service or a support group, for example, means they can address the root problem.
“They can start to take more control over their health and have a range of choices not previously available within the NHS.”
People can self-refer to social prescribing services, currently run separately by organisations in the north, south and east and west of Leeds.
Patients can take part in an online survey at www.smartsurvey.co.uk/s/socialprescribing
SOCIAL VALUE OF NON MEDICAL CARE
Studies have shown that social prescribing can improve people’s overall health and reduce the use of NHS services.
The system dates back to the 1990s, but interest in social prescribing has grown over the past ten years.
People said to benefit include those with mild mental health issues, people who are socially isolated and patients who regularly attend GP appointments or A&E. Wider benefits are also thought to include reduce reliance on out of work benefits.