The regional co-ordinator of a Derry-based network of community health hubs dedicated to tackling health inequality believes ‘social prescribing’ may be the key to reducing the phenomenon of poorer people dying younger and being sicker than their wealthier fellow citizens.
The model, which involves linking people with the best, often community-based, health care available to them, will be the subject of the ‘Social Prescribing Network Ireland Conference’ in St. James’ Hospital, Dublin, next Thursday.
Tony Doherty, of Derry’s Healthy Living Centre Alliance, who has organised the conference in partnership with the Liberties hospital, said: “While we have a variety of excellent social prescribing models operating at local level, Ireland, both north and south, is very much behind the times compared to advances made elsewhere.
“In England, for instance, social prescribing has been widely practiced for many years and is seen as a real growth area for both general practitioners and secondary care.
“It is now a national objective of NHS England.
“The heightened interest in the concept is reflected in Sadiq Khan, the Mayor or London’s strategic plan to tackle health inequalities where he states that he would like ‘more people to have the power to act on the things that affect their health’.
“He wants more people to have access to groups, places and networks that make their community a healthy place.
“One way to do this is through social prescribing, which is a way to refer people to community-based services.”
A number of organisations from Derry and Donegal, which are considered pioneering users of the ‘social prescription’ model will attend the conference.
The Bogside and Brandywell Health Forum and Elemental Software, both based in Derry, will inform the conference of health leaders north and south, how they have advanced key elements of ‘social prescribing’ in the North West.
The conference will also hear from beneficiaries of a Health Service Executive-led ‘social prescribing project’ in Donegal.
Dr. David Robinson, a consultant geriatrician in St. James’ Hospital, said: “Social prescribing is a way to link medical care to non-clinical, locally delivered support services.
“It enables medical professionals, like me, to refer patients to a range of activities and services, recognising a social model of health in which wellbeing is determined by a variety of factors.
“It empowers patients and communities, supports greater independence, reduces reliance on primary and secondary healthcare, and ultimately delivers better outcomes for people and society.”