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Celebrating social prescribing in east Suffolk

This week’s Social Prescribing Day (March 18) is a celebration of east Suffolk’s hugely successful, nationally recognized social prescribing initiative, Connect for Health, which has supported an estimated over 6000 people since its inception two and a half years ago.

Around one-third of all GP appointments are made by people who have nothing medically wrong with them, and instead present to their GP with other concerns such as debt, loneliness, relationships or poor housing issues, all of which have a detrimental impact upon a person’s health and wellbeing.

The pandemic has exacerbated the existing pressures within our communities and wider health system, increasing fear and concern upon household finances, employment, mental health, loneliness and isolation,

Social prescribing has provided a life-line to our most vulnerable residents across Ipswich and east Suffolk and has supported our communities in the most challenging circumstances of our lifetime.

People who need help and support with non-medical issues are referred to one of the 20 local Connect for Health social prescribing  Community Connectors, who will spend dedicated time with them,  exploring their lifestyle and the issues they have raised to understand what really matters to them.  The Community Connector will work with the participant to develop a personal action plan to support and address their needs.

The participant can then be signposted to a number of organisations that can help them, for example, to improve their fitness through exercise or combat loneliness by finding them friends through new interests. Those with debt, drug, alcohol or gambling issues, or who want to quit smoking, can be referred to the Citizens Advice, Turning Point, Alcoholics Anonymous or OneLife Suffolk.

Social prescribing is an important tool in supporting people to make the best lifestyle choices and is proven to benefit mental health outcomes, community wellbeing and reduce social exclusion as well as reducing pressure on NHS and social care services.

The Connect for Health initiative is funded by NHS Ipswich and East Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group, in partnership with Ipswich Citizens Advice, The Shaw Trust, Suffolk Family Carers, Access Community Trust, East Suffolk Council and BSC Multicultural Services.

Dr Dean Dorsett, NHS Ipswich & East Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group’s Social Prescribing Lead, said: "Since the founding of the NHS there has never been a greater challenge to both our health and care sectors and to all our communities. Social prescribing, personalised care and co-production with our communities will form the cornerstones on which we will build a better, fairer and healthier society."

Dr Imran Qureshi, a GP in Leiston and chairman of NHS Ipswich and East Suffolk CCG's clinical executive, said: "Social prescribing is all about supporting people's needs that GPs are less skilled to help with like housing, work and other social determinants of health. Working with social prescribers means we can, together, help people to improve their health and wellbeing in a truly holistic way."

Dr Ayesha Tuzhara, a GP at Two Rivers Medical Centre in Ipswich, said: "Social prescribing has enabled the GPs to offer a wrap around service with the help of the trained social prescribers, who have been helping our population during the most challenging time of the pandemic. Social prescribers can help with loneliness, long-term health conditions, mental health and in true essence provide our population with all-inclusive care."
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