A new health project using ‘social prescribing’ could transform the delivery of health and social care in Northern Ireland said the Department of Health Permanent Secretary, Richard Pengelly today.
Social prescribing is a new health alternative that recognises community-centred ways of working can often be more effective than the traditional treatments being used to improve the health and well-being of marginalised groups and vulnerable individuals. Instead of prescribing medicine and referring to hospitals, people will have access to a range of activities including arts, group learning, counselling sessions, cookery, befriending schemes, healthy lifestyle support, sports and yoga.
Mr Pengelly said: “It is a sad fact that the more disadvantaged people’s circumstances are, the worse their health is likely to be. It is a huge challenge for government to narrow the health gap between the most and the least deprived areas so everyone in society has an equal chance of experiencing good health and well-being.
"The extent to which we have control of our lives, have good social connections and live in healthy, safe neighbourhoods, are all important influences on good physical and mental health. Those who find themselves excluded from society, discriminated against, or lacking power and control through living in poverty, can be the least likely to access and benefit from traditional services, despite often having the worst health and greatest need.”
Speaking at the launch of a £3 million National Lottery funded NI health project by the Bogside and Brandywell Health Forum today in Londonderry, Mr Pengelly welcomed the SPRING Social Prescribing project.
“Whilst the health and social care system has a key role to play in tackling the root causes of poor health and health inequalities, it cannot do it on its own. Social prescribing recognises the role that our voluntary and community sector partner and crucially clients and service users have to play in improving health and well-being outcomes.
“We wish this project the very best of success. GPs can refer patients to take part in community activities which will reduce their isolation and dependence on medication whilst reducing pressures on GPs and other healthcare professional. I’m sure this programme will have a positive impact on many people who engage with it over the next few years and I look forward to watching its development.
“This project will help support the continuing transformation of health and social care in Northern Ireland. We need to see more preventive and proactive care for patients together with earlier detection and treatment of physical and mental health problems. We need to see the independence of people supported through new initiatives. These aims are supported in Health and Wellbeing 2026 – Delivering Together,” said Mr Pengelly.
The project will also receive funding from the Department of Agriculture Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) and Fiona McCandless Deputy Secretary, Department of Agriculture Environment and Rural Affairs said: “Social prescribing has the potential to help rural dwellers and communities take ownership of their health and well-being and avail of practical interventions and support from the community and voluntary sector that are more easily accessible to them in their local areas. This is an extremely good-fit with our Tackling Rural Poverty and Social Isolation Programme and could provide the basis of a long-term approach to supporting health and well-being in rural areas.”
Notes to editors:
1. The new health project will run for three years, and will support 4,000 people aged over 18 across Northern Ireland. It will work with 60 GP practices in partnership with the Healthy Living Centre Alliance and the five Health and Social Care Trusts.
2. Part of the funding will be used to deliver a similar project in Scotland in partnership with Scottish Communities for Health and Wellbeing.
3. Evaluations of social prescribing projects in Bristol and Rotherham have shown a number of positive outcomes including reductions in inpatient admissions, A&E attendances and outpatient appointments, in addition to the positive outcomes for participants themselves. An evidence review of social prescribing by the University of Westminster found an average decrease of 28% in demand on GP services following a referral to a social prescribing service.
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