How GPs and communities are working together to tackle loneliness

 

Brightlife, the Big Lottery-funded partnership set up to improve the lives of older people in Cheshire West and Chester, is launching the region’s first Social Prescribing service in the rural village of Malpas. But what exactly is social prescribing, and how can it help alleviate loneliness?

One of the trickiest things about preventing loneliness and social isolation is that those most at risk tend to be invisible. By very definition, if you are socially isolated, you have few interactions with other people and spend a lot of time on your own.

Older people who are socially isolated often have mobility and other health issues that can make leaving the house difficult, and the loss of confidence that comes with reduced socialising leads to a cycle of loneliness that can be very hard to break.

For many lonely older people, one of the few meaningful social interactions they have in their lives is a trip to the GP or a home visit from a healthcare professional.  However, GP’s and other healthcare workers are under huge amounts of pressure and often have only ten minutes to spend with a patient – usually not long enough to get to the root of the problem of loneliness, and almost certainly not long enough to do anything meaningful towards alleviating it.

Evidence suggests that one of the best ways of preventing and treating loneliness and social isolation is by empowering the individual to get involved in their own community: helping them to discover what they can do and enjoy and allowing them to rebuild their own social support networks. This is at the heart of a relatively new model called Social Prescribing.

Social Prescribing offers a way for healthcare providers to help lonely and socially isolated patients by referring them into community-based services that can help them to manage their own wellbeing. The key to its success is the involvement of a third party who has the time and skills necessary to manage the transition between formal healthcare and community services.

In Cheshire, that third party is Brightlife, a Big Lottery-funded partnership set up to improve the lives of older people across Cheshire West and Chester. This month, Brightlife is launching the region’s first Social Prescribing service in partnership with Laurel Bank GP Surgery in the village of Malpas, a small, rural community in which around a quarter of the population is over 50.

A range of healthcare professionals including GPs and nurses at the surgery, as well as local hospital discharge teams and social workers, can identify older residents at risk of loneliness and offer them a ‘social prescription’ in the form of a referral to the Brightlife scheme.

There are three tiers of engagement available depending on how vulnerable the patient is, ranging from basic signposting into available services, through to intensive and ongoing support including access to peer befriending projects.

While social prescribing schemes have been implemented in cities and other urban areas, the new Brightlife scheme in Malpas is one of only a handful of similar projects run in rural areas across the country.

“Rural areas like Malpas present different challenges when it comes to loneliness,” explains Brightlife’s Social Prescribing Co-ordinator for Malpas, Louise Gough. “For example, even though there’s plenty going on in the community, a lack of available transport makes accessing local services and activities difficult for older people, including those living in sheltered accommodation.”

In addition to the Malpas scheme, Brightlife will be launching a second scheme around Easter, covering the larger area of Winsford.

“We hope that with these two schemes in place, social prescribing is something that really takes off in Cheshire West,” says Anna Vogiatzis, Brightlife Social Prescribing Manager. “We have already had a fantastic response from the GPs involved, and with their continued support we think that we can really change the lives of many, many lonely older people in our region.”

For more information, contact Social Prescribing Manager, Anna Vogiatzis, at anna.vogiatzis@brightlifecheshire.org.uk or on 01606 884444

 

This piece was written for a client to publicise the launch of their new social prescribing scheme, and it was published as a guest blog post on the Campaign to End Loneliness blog – you can see the original post here. – Liz

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