The social prescribing revolution has had a huge impact on the health and well being of the local community in Thornton Heath.
The programme which started at the Parchmore Medical centre to the year July 2018 has seen a 20 per cent reduction in hospital outpatient referral as well as a four per cent drop in emergency admissions.
Patients are prescribed sessions offering fitness, coffee mornings, debt advice and counselling to combat illnesess such as diabetes, and social isolation. Thirty-seven GP practices in Croydon, have joined the scheme which has spent £50,000 on prescribing 30,000 social sessions.
NHS England’s chief executive Simon Stevens has visited the project in Croydon. The Croydon scheme is being partly funded with almost £800,000 of NHS money and also relies on community volunteers to keep it going.
However this money, and the reach of the organisations included is scant when compared to the scale of the current NHS crisis.
The programme is now extending across the borough and has been aligned with the councils One Croydon programme to support local communities.
The Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock, is a fan: he wants social prescribing to relieve pressure on the NHS and improve patients’ outcomes.
He said:“I see social prescribing growing in importance, becoming an indispensable tool for GPs, just like a thermometer or a stethoscope may be seen today.”
Judy Hall, 70, who is a Type 1 diabetic, said: “It was at a Patient Participation Meeting at my doctors’ practice where I first heard of social prescribing and, more specifically, of Janey Williams’ exercise classes, though I’ll admit my initial reaction was rather dismissive. It instictively sounded like the kind of structured activity ideal for people who are not very fit.
“That was in November, 2017. By February of the following year it had dawned on me that walking in my everyday life would not be enough to maintain my fitness and ensure I could fully enjoy my holidays tramping around the Lake District and Pembrokeshire’s coastal path.
“I would be short of breath on steep climbs and, sometimes, have to stop for a while before carrying on.
“It was that realisation which prompted me to abandon feeling so self-conscious and try out the classes.
“Fast forward 10 months and I have scarcely missed a session. Exercises which seemed strenuous in February now feel comfortable and invigorating.
“Janey encourages us to proceed at our own pace to allow everyone to participate on their own level.
“Looking around the crammed Church Hall at St Paul’s this morning, I saw rows of smiling faces, the positive energy in the room palpable.
“Personally, I have made huge physical progress. I now march up hills without stopping or suffering breathlessness.
“My medication has been reduced and my back, which used to grind uncomfortably as I trudged along, is now much stronger. I feel I am taking ownership of my condition and doing something to help myself.
“My husband, 77, now joins in once a week. Highly resistant to the idea of organised exercise initially, he, too, is now one of the class’s most enthusiastic members. The whole experience has been revelatory.”
Steve Reed, MP for Croydon North and Shadow Minister for Civil Society said: “What’s going on at the Parchmore Medical Centre in Thornton Heath is ground-breaking and nationally significant.
“The centre has found a way to keep people healthy and well by running dozens of activities in the community. What’s really unique is the way it’s the community that’s taken the lead.
“We’re seeing parents learn about cooking healthy meals for their children, coffee mornings for people who are living lonely lives, exercise classes for older people who need to get fitter.
“And it’s also helping people cope with stress or depression because of changes to the benefits system or who need help to manage debt or navigate public service bureaucracy and form filling.
“I took the Parchmore team to meet NHS Chief Simon Stevens, and he’s now using this project as a pilot that could be rolled out nationally.
“It’s so exciting that this initiative started right here in Thornton Heath. It’s keeping people healthy, bringing the community together, and saving money for our cash-starved NHS all at the same time.
“It’s a brilliant idea and I pay enormous tribute to Dr Fernandes and Brian Dickens who are the people who’ve driven this forward”.
Dr Agnelo Fernandes, Chairman at NHS Croydon Clinical Commissioning Group , said: “As a GP in Thornton Heath for 29 years until community activities or social prescribing was available the only options to support patients was unnecessary medication or medically unnecessary visits to the surgery or clinically unnecessary hospital referrals.
“Up to a third of patients attending the GP surgery did not have medical needs at the heart of their problems and as GPs we were ill equipped to support this cohort.
“Rather than a national “Wellness” service we only had the option of a national “sickness” service. Loneliness and inactivity are major factors influencing both physical health as well as mental health.
“As a result of better developed community activities now we can direct people to support themselves better using these services.
“To empower them not be patients but to just be normal people or citizens involved and engaged to being happy and healthy and to be enabled to live more fulfilling lives as part of a local community.
“Life expectancy in the north of the borough is nearly ten years less that many areas in the south of the borough and I have no doubt that this is due to the social prescribing development these health inequalities will begin improve with the focus on prevention, good health and wellness.
“Health is only a small part of wellbeing and as we begin to address the wider determinants as well we can expect to see the health inequalities gap across Croydon narrowing. Roll out of the social prescribing model across Croydon by the CCG is therefore an opportune development.”
Mindfulness teacher Peter Lawrence, who is piloting classes in St Paul’s and St Stephen’s Churches said: “The pilot has created a lot of interest nationally with a feature in the Guardian newspaper and the data being gathered shows that people taking part visit GP surgeries less often.
“Social Prescribing is about encouraging local communities to participate in healthy activities to help people nourish their bodies and minds, which is seen to improve their overall well-being.
“Mindfulness is one activity, which helps with bringing the mind to be with the present, and living in the moment.
“This makes a person more aware of thoughts, feelings and their bodily sensations, which gives the possibilities of greater freedom and choice, and not to be continually stuck in ‘automatic pilot’, by going down ‘the same old road’, by making decisions and having repeated thoughts which can be negative and destructive.
“To be Mindful, a person becomes more aware, of the present moment, which can lead to responding with a choice. This is achieved by practicing certain meditation techniques in becoming aware of, where the attention of the mind is, and deliberately changing focus of our attention on the here and now.
“This has shown, with scientific research, that practicing Mindfulness regularly creates changes in our brain function enabling us to improve our ability to focus, think more clearly and be calmer.
“In the film Kung Fu Panda, Oogway, the wise turtle, says to Po, the panda, ‘yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift, that’s why it’s called the present’!”
PICTURE ONE: The Patients
PICTURE TWO: The Doctors
PICTURE THREE: The Politician
PICTURE FOUR: The Practitioner