OTs 'should lead on social prescribing'

RCOT says occupational therapists are ideally placed to lead on social prescribing

Published on 5th February 2019

The Royal College of Occupational Therapists has welcomed the government's announcement of 1,000 link workers to deliver on their social prescribing agenda in England.

NHS England announced that an army of advisers will be recruited to help patients live fitter, healthier lives and combat anxiety, loneliness and depression under plans to ramp up social prescribing.

RCOT says occupational therapists are ideally placed to advise on and lead the development of social prescribing services, especially in areas where take-up has historically been low.

According to NHS England, around half of GP appointments are not directly related to medical conditions. Evidence shows that referrals to community services such as exercise or art classes, history groups and even ballroom dancing can boost health and wellbeing more than medication or other treatments.

NHS England plans to recruit 1,000 social prescribing ‘link workers’ as part of the NHS Long Term Plan. The link workers will be able to give people time to talk about what matters to them and support them to find suitable activities that are a better alternative to medication as part of a step change in the provision of ‘personalised care’.

GPs surgeries will work to support each other in around 1,400 Primary Care Networks covering the country, with each network having access to a social prescriber link worker and NHS England have agreed to fund their salaries in full.

By 2023-24, social prescribers will be handling around 900,000 patient appointments a year.

They will connect patients to community groups and agencies for practical and emotional support for a wide range of people, including those:

- with one or more long-term condition

- who need support to help with alcohol and smoking issues

- who need support with their mental health

- who are lonely or isolated

- who have complex social needs which affect their wellbeing.

Dr Nikita Kanani, NHS England’s Acting Medical Director of Primary Care, said: “We will be recruiting a substantial number of people to support general practitioners over the next five years, to help ease the workload and pressures that we know general practice is under. But we see the network of social prescribers as a fundamental change to the way primary care operates and vital to the future. Recruiting social prescriber link workers will be a priority target as a part of the Universal Care Plan.”

RCOT said that enabling social participation is at the heart of the occupational therapy profession, and always has been. As a result, OTs are ideally placed to advise on and lead the development of social prescribing services.

A statement from the organisation said: "Occupational therapists are essential in ensuring vulnerable people with complex needs are able to take advantage of social prescribing. The announcement is a big opportunity for our profession. We encourage our members to position themselves as experts within their organisations and use their skills and knowledge to drive forward this welcome investment for the benefit of our society."

The RCOT added that it has been working on the topic of social prescribing and the unique contribution occupational therapy can make for a considerable time. Specifically, RCOT has:

- Met and engaged with Matt Hancock MP’s team and the Department for Health and Social Care on the role and contribution of occupational therapists in providing the best possible health and social care services.

- Worked as part of the Social Prescribing Advisory Group, Public Health England and Royal Society for Public Health, linking with NHS Improvement.

- With the NHS England Personalised Care Team, and we are the only AHP body to be named on the Universal Model of Personalised Care that has social prescribing as a key component.

- Promoted the role occupational therapists can take in social prescribing across the UK to managers, commissioners and politicians, including discussions with the Royal College of General Practitioners, NHS England and Northern Ireland HSC.

- Participated in a round-table event with NHS England on personalised care, which included social prescribing.

Dr Richard Vautrey, British Medical Association (BMA) GP committee chair said: “Every day, GPs see a large number of patients with a broad range of health conditions. But often, those who come to see their GP will have complex underlying reasons for doing so, not always medical and often linked to social and domestic circumstances which affect their physical and mental wellbeing.

“Good access to professionals who can link patients to local services and activities – such as community support groups and classes – can be of great benefit to patients, actively involving them in their own care and improving their longer-term wellbeing. This should also allow GPs to focus their time and expertise on treating people’s more immediate or acute health needs.

“GPs and their teams are under a huge amount of pressure to deliver high quality care to a rising population with increasingly complex needs, and therefore it is vital, now more than ever, that patients are able to see the right healthcare or support professional for them within a reasonable timeframe. The BMA has long-backed social prescribers supporting the general practice team, and this commitment to roll them out across the country is very welcome," he added.

Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock said: “Personalised care is the future and there’s growing evidence that supporting people to access community services and activities, such as chess clubs or dance classes, has the power to improve people’s health and wellbeing. For the first time ever, millions of people across the country will soon be able to access care that is truly tailored to their individual needs.

“As part of the NHS Long Term Plan, social prescribing will become an indispensable tool for GPs, who will be supported by a new army of workers. This is prevention in action and will help to combat some of the scourges of modern life, from loneliness to mental health, or over-medicalisation.”

The NHS Long Term Plan has a commitment to have 1,000 link workers in Primary Care Networks by April 2021, rising further by 2023-24, and within five years over 2.5 million more people will benefit from social prescribing, a personal health budget, and new support for managing their own health in partnership with patients’ groups and the voluntary sector.

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