As the world becomes more aware of the importance of social connections as a key determinant of our health and wellbeing, policy makers are beginning to create formal frameworks to ensure community connectedness is incorporated into our health care systems, as they shift the focus from illness to wellness.
This is not new to Feros Care; having recognised the importance of the social determinant of health decades ago, for thirty years Feros Care have included services and supports to ensure that clients get a healthy dose of community and connection. It's one of the ways we deliver our mission of enabling bold lives. And that’s why Be Someone For Someone was established - an initiative specifically designed to tackle loneliness and help people enjoy the social connections so vital to their health.
The good news is, the rest of the world is starting to catch up and a concept called ‘social prescribing’ is gaining traction – so much so, there is now an international day to draw attention to it.
What is social prescribing?
At its most basic, social prescribing is the notion that “prescribers” (GP’s or others) prescribe community-based activities and local non-clinical services, instead of or to supplement traditional medications – taking into account the broader health and pyscho social needs of their patients.
Social prescribing can address key risk factors for poor health including social isolation, unstable housing or poor mental health, prescribing nutrition classes, walking groups, or Men’s Shed for example.
In social prescribing, the practitioner works with the person to understand their wellbeing holistically, including any socioeconomic factors – rather than just approaching their healthcare from a clinical perspective. They will then prescribe and actively link patients to the huge range of programs and services that already exist in the community, to get the support they need.
How does it differ from traditional treatments?
When opening at the Third Global Conference on Social Prescribing recently, which was attended by Head of Be Someone For Someone Jo Winwood, The Prince Of Wales said, “Community, collaboration and compassion in equal doses can support a person in ways that medicine on its own is unable to achieve”.
Traditionally, healthcare has been about treating symptoms and conditions, but social prescribing is about looking more closely at why these symptoms exist and how a person’s physical and social environment can affect their overall health.
Ultimately, it’s about addressing the root cause of poor health, which may not be a medical issue, but a social one.
Who would need a social prescription?
Everyone can benefit from more meaningful connections, but those who benefit the most from social prescribing experience poor health outcomes that have their root cause in situations and circumstances that are detrimental to their health. In the UK, 1 in 5 people see a GP for non medical matters –wanting help with the issues they know are making them ill – think loneliness, poor environment, unemployment, grief, lack of mobility or a reduced capacity to contribute to their community.
What are the benefits?
While Feros Care and Be Someone For Someone have seen the benefits of taking a holistic approach to wellbeing first-hand through the work we’ve done with village residents and community clients for decades, the evidence for social prescribing is now emerging internationally and includes health, economic, social and productivity gains.
The flow-on effects of are wide-ranging. It links people to the amazing range of assets that already exist in the community, including volunteering. GP’s can be more productive and find their work more satisfying and effective; people re-present at GP’s, ER’s and hospitals less and the heath system less pressured. But the ultimate benefit is improved and sustained health and wellbeing for individuals and communities.
Social prescribing in Australia
It’s one thing for a GP to prescribe a community-based activity, but unlike with medication, we don’t have a definitive list of approved drugs or a one-stop-shop like a pharmacy to dispense a social prescription.
We need to ensure that prescribers know what is available for their clients and that once a support service as been prescribed, we have the capacity to really link and guide people with these services to overcome any barriers in accessing them- confidence, transport and technology for example.
The United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) has already created 1,100 ‘link workers’ attached to Medical Practices to support GPs and patients by linking them to the supports they have identified together.
At Feros Care, we have been doing this for many years, but more needs to be done on a national scale and we are joining the calls for a systematic, nationally scaled but locally implemented approach to social prescribing in Australia.
How Feros Care has been implementing social prescribing for decades
Feros Care doesn't focus on ‘what’s the matter with me’; Feros Care focuses on ‘what matters to me’. Within this framework, there are eight domains of wellbeing:
The success of social prescribing relies heavily on local knowledge. As one presenter at the 3rd Global Conference on Social Prescribing told the 1500 strong audience – there is no point suggesting steak if there is no beef in the kitchen. At Feros Care, we have invested enormous resources in understanding and building strong community connections across our footprint so that we know exactly what’s available in each area, to support each individual client in a way that meets their personal needs. And where there are gaps- we try to bridge those too. Take our Virtual Social Centre and Lets Get Technical programs, both designed specifically to help those who have barriers to connecting with community activities and supports in conventional ways or In Great Company, our volunteer visitor Program.
At Feros Care we are evangelistic about social prescribing – long before it became a term or a thing. Speak with our team and they will ask you what the fuss is all about. It’s “the way we do things around here”. But we do need to help front line professionals to understand and implement the concept and to advocate for a healthcare system that supports them to do that.
How Feros Care clients are benefiting
87-year-old, Tweed Heads
This senior is vision impaired and as a result of COVID, her usual social activities had been cancelled and she’d become withdrawn. Now lacking in self-confidence, she became extremely anxious about going out, even to walk around the block. On two occasions, she attempted to end her life.
Following appropriate mental health treatment, with the help of a Feros Care Wellbeing Manager, the woman acknowledged that her loneliness was impacting her mental health and it was determined that her social anxiety was linked to the embarrassment of accidental spillages when drinking.
What did we “prescribe”? An adaptive cup to assist with spill free drinking and a link to a Vision Australia volunteer to encourage and accompany her on outings.
The senior is now connected with social activities, enjoying friendships and is no longer withdrawn, anxious or has suicidal ideations.
A Feros Care Wellbeing Manager noticed a senior’s mood deteriorating indicating signs of depression. The senior had lost her confidence in everything from cooking to driving, leading to anxiety and loss of self-worth. She had also given up on her hobby of bowling, which affected her mental health and physical strength.
The prescription was leg strengthening and bowling! In this lady’s reablement plan physical strengthening with progressive block and step walking was the foundation to getting her back to the bowlo where she reestablished contact with friends from the club. She is happy, feels her life has meaning again and can walk without assistance, increasing her independence and confidence.