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West Lancashire residents are knitting, walking and gardening their way to good health

Sewing, working out at the gym and singing are just some of the ways that Skelmersdale residents are boosting their health and wellbeing, thanks to a successful social prescribing pilot.

Other than prescribing medicine, whenever possible GPs have started referring to a team of social prescribers who are equipped to help individuals improve their health using non-medical solutions. There are a range of ways people can be supported following on from an initial confidential one to one meeting to understand current issues the person is facing. So far, since the initiative launched in April 2018 the service has identified several ways to support people to feel better such as through access to a gym, knitting groups, lunch clubs, bereavement groups, art classes, pottery, gardening and walking clubs. Around 150 people have been supported so far, embracing changes to their lives in different ways.

Kathryn Kavanagh, health inequalities lead at NHS West Lancashire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said: “We are seeing people coming through to social prescribing with varying needs but largely these are just people who are facing challenges with their mental health and feeling low, for example whether that is through them having become isolated, suffering with anxiety or general loneliness.

“Often what they need is for us to strengthen their social connections in some way. We are blessed in Skelmersdale with a range of support groups and activity clubs that cater for all interests, so we can signpost to something suited for them. This pilot is really making a real difference so far, and as such we hope to roll it out to the whole of West Lancashire in future”.

The team is so reactive that social media is even playing a part. This winter, a Manchester hospital consultant reached out on Twitter to identify some support for a patient with loneliness. The team jumped into action and managed to speak directly to the patient and refer them into the service. They quickly identified there were several immediate needs they could support the individual with, such as issuing a foodbank voucher and helping with housing related issues.

Kathryn Kavanagh continues: “Identifying someone that needed help via twitter is a real modern-day example of how we should be working as a society to make sure those who need support receive it in the way they need. Social prescribing is hands on and helps make real connections in the community to improve health”.

Social Prescribing Support Worker Nicci Sutton-Kelsall says: “What is great about social prescribing is it is not off the shelf and we tailor everything around what the individual needs. We look at their lifestyle, what they are interested in, what their needs are, where they live, whether they drive. We support them to improve their lives and feel happier and healthier day to day. While we are all grateful for medical advances we have today, sometimes medicine is not the answer to support those who need it which is where social prescribing can really play a vital role”.

Paul, 47 from Birch Green in Skelmersdale is someone who has been receiving support from the service. He says: “I have cerebral palsy and use crutches so I am limited to what I can do day to day. I’m lucky to have a good support network of friends and family but it’s easy to live in my own bubble, and I wanted to lift my mood and leave the house more.

“Since being with the social prescribing service, I’ve been to some weight management sessions. I am a diabetic that I control by diet and I’m a bang it in the microwave kind of cook, so I am also signed up to work with the Junk Food Café and get some cooking tips from them, so I eat healthier. I have arthritis and painful shoulders from my crutches, and this gets worse if I sit still a lot, so next week I also have my first one of some gym sessions to help me be more active.

“If anyone is feeling lonely or anxious, or whatever their issue is, they should get in touch with the service. You won’t change overnight but if you don’t try, you’ll be stuck in that same situation in future but probably with worse symptoms. The more you do it the better you get – give it a try. You have nothing to lose!”

If you’re registered with a Skelmersdale based GP practice and think you could benefit from some social prescribing, contact the team on 01695 733 737.

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