Derry leading the way with Social Prescribing Conference

Over 200 delegates from across the island will attend this year’s All Ireland Social Prescribing Conference in Derry’s City Hotel this week.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 20th June 2022, 3:24 pm

The conference ‘Social Prescribing: Celebrating and Sustaining Throughout the Island’ will aim to highlight the critical role of social prescribing projects based in community centres, healthy living centres, primary care centres and hospitals throughout the island of Ireland.

The conference, which is being held on June 24 and 24, will be addressed by Frank Feighan TD, Minister for Public Health, Wellbeing and Drug Strategy Frank Feighan TD and Health Minister Robin Swann MLA. Derry City & Strabane District Council Mayor Sandra Duffy and MP for Foyle Colum Eastwood will also address the event.

The All-Ireland Social Prescribing Conference is organised by the All-Ireland Social Prescribing Network, an island-wide steering group that is driving this innovative healthcare approach. Tony Doherty, co-chair of the Network believes the conference will highlight the important work carried out across the island.

Members of the All- Ireland Social Prescribing Network Steering group, including from L-R, Emer Mc Daid (SPRING Social Prescribing Regional manager NI); Jennifer Neff (Elemental Software); Tony Doherty (Network Co-Chair); Martin Duffy (CEO Derg Vally Healthy Living Centre); Ryan Tracey (SPRING Project manager)

He said: “Social Prescribing is a fantastic approach to improve health and wellbeing at local level, puts health back into people’s own hands. Ideally every community would have this service and that is our aim. With the conference coming to the beautiful city of Derry, this will become a timely occasion for those involved to come together, take a step back and look at how best to maximise the places and people at the heart of the services.”

Social Prescribing is an innovative approach to health care that aims to support individuals to take greater control of their own health and links them to a variety of activities within their own communities following a referral from the GP or other healthcare professional.

What is offered is often a complement to medical treatment - A person is offered a ‘social’ prescription rather than a medical one, and they are then linked to a social prescriber or link worker based in the community who assists the person in choosing classes or activities that will benefit them. These may include walking groups, book clubs or talking therapy sessions.

Social prescribing is especially effective for those who are affected by anxiety, depression, loneliness, fatigue, chronic pain, or just seeking information on the benefits of healthy eating and exercise.

Derry based GP, Dr Paul Molloy, has seen first-hand the benefits of social prescribing over the last few years, having worked closely with the ‘SPRING Social Prescribing’ project which co-ordinates social prescribing for thousands of people in Northern Ireland & Scotland.

He said: “The social prescribing scheme has been a tremendous success and shows that taking a holistic approach to someone’s health is just as important as addressing physical illness.

“The benefits to physical and mental health have been reflected in positive feedback from patients and reduced levels of attendances to health services.

“For example, if someone has low mood caused by isolation, medication is not going to help, and they may repeatedly go to their GP as they have nowhere else to turn. Through a ‘Social Prescription’ we get them involved in community activities which they enjoy such as a walking group, stop their issues progressing, improve their wellbeing and therefore reduce the need for health services.”

Thanks to GPs such as Dr. Molloy, to date, SPRING Social Prescribing has been helping over 4,000 people with social prescriptions to improve their health & well-being. Whilst the SPRING Social Prescribing project operates across both Northern Ireland and Scotland, the core team is based in Derry and have been working diligently with the All-Ireland Network to bring this year’s conference to the North West for the first time.

The conference will bring project managers, strategists, social prescribers and people who have received social prescriptions, together for a two-day event to discuss and further discover how this innovative approach to health can be expanded. At a time when waiting lists and appointments are ever increasing, social prescribing can help alleviate such pressures.

In addition, the conference will also be addressed by Paul Sweeney, NI Chair of the National Lottery Community Fund; Siobhán O’Neill, NI Mental Health Champion; local GP Paul Molloy; David Reid from the Department of Agriculture NI; Health Service Executive Helen Deely; Glynne Roberts from the Welsh Health Department; Martin Hayes from the NI Department of Health and a number of social prescribers and beneficiaries.

For more information on Social Prescribing visit www.allirelandsocialprescribing.ie.