The Big Lottery Fund is to spend more than £3 million on a Derry-based project aimed at reducing pressure on GPs and improving health.
Bogside and Brandywell Health Forum has been awarded the grant of £3,19m. to deliver the “social prescribing project” across Northern Ireland and Scotland.
The group ran a pilot scheme for older people in Derry and Strabane over the past year.
Doctors were able to refer patients to take part in community activities.
The aim is to reduce their isolation and dependence on medication.
Part of the funding will be used to deliver a similar project in Scotland in partnership with Scottish Communities for Health and Wellbeing.
Seamus Ward, general manager of Bogside and Brandywell Health Forum, explained how the project will work. “Social prescribing acts as a link between the health service and the community and provides care and support for people that goes beyond medication. For example, for people who are lonely or isolated, there is no medical intervention which can help with this, but being part of your community, going to clubs, being engaged with things you enjoy, can help.
“Many GPs have patients who are making regular unnecessary appointments because they don’t know where else to go. So we are taking the pressure off the GPs and making more time for them to see people who need medical care. Through the pilot, GPs found that the number of people returning for non-medical care was being reduced. It’s less strain on their services, and waiting lists for appointments are being reduced.”
The project will employ three social prescribers who will work with GPs across Northern Ireland. The GP will refer the patient to the social prescriber who will then contact the patient to talk to them about what they need then refer them to a suitable community activity.
Derry woman Ena Kerr (77) regularly attended her GP surgery until she was referred to the pilot project last year. She is now attending classes in her community and has only had to see her GP once since January.
“My confidence has grown so much and it’s all thanks to the doctors referring me to the Forum. I didn’t even know there were classes here that would be suitable for me and I would never have had the confidence to join one on my own accord without that push. My health is improving, too...I’m feeling like myself again and I have my spark back. I’m feeling younger and, although I still have lows, I’m not hiding away as much.”
Dr Tom Black, Derry GP, says the social prescribing project is vital in helping patients who need non-medical help.
“There is a gap between what GPs can provide and what patients need,” he says. “By working alongside GP practices, we can identify patients who would benefit from this type of support, meaning GPs’ time is freed up to see patients.”