by Saxtead Parish Council
A new social prescribing initiative that has been helping to improve the health and wellbeing of Ipswich residents is to be rolled out across East Suffolk during September and October.
Connect for Health is a free and confidential service for adults who need specialist support to help them with non-medical issues that impact negatively on their overall health.
Approximately one third of all GP appointments are made by patients who have nothing medically wrong with them. Instead, they want to talk to their doctor about issues such as debt, loneliness and relationship problems.
From next month, patients within the area covered by the Ipswich and East Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group who need help and support with non-medical issues can be referred to social prescribing link workers known as ‘community connectors’.
They can be referred by GPs, practice staff, hospital staff, community nurses, pharmacists, council staff or voluntary workers. In some cases, they will be able to self-refer.
Patients will spend 45 minutes with the community connectors, who will ask questions about themselves, their lifestyles and their problems, and pull together an action plan for them.
They can then be signposted to organisations that can help them improve their fitness through exercise or combat loneliness by finding them friends through new interests.
These could include community allotment initiatives or community schemes such as Men’s Sheds and ParkRun.
The groups running such schemes will also have access to ‘community chest’ funding to help them lay on more activities to cope with increased demand.
Community connectors will also be able to access funding if they need to physically take patients to activities and help introduce them to people.
Patients with debt, drug, alcohol or gambling issues, or who want to quit smoking, can be referred to the Citizens Advice Bureau, Turning Point, Alcoholics Anonymous or OneLife Suffolk.
Dr Dean Dorsett, NHS Ipswich & East Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group’s Social Prescribing Lead, said: “Your GP isn’t the only person who can help you feel better.
“Taking care of your health involves more than just medicine, and Connect for Health can provide specialist support for non-medical issues that adversely affect people’s health.
“Our community connectors can spend time with you exploring what activities or what support could help improve your health and wellbeing.
“You can talk to them in confidence and they will able to give practical, helpful, non-judgemental advice on a whole host of issues.
“They will be able to help you meet new people and make new friends, access new opportunities, learn new skills and lead healthier and fitter lifestyles. This in turn will enable our GPs to devote their time to the patients who need help with actual medical problems.”
Cllr Mark Jepson, East Suffolk Council’s Assistant Cabinet Member for Health and Wellbeing, said: “Social prescribing provides support for those who are struggling with issues which are not medical but can still significantly impact on their daily lives.
“The service will also help those who are feeling socially isolated and vulnerable by introducing them to a range of community groups who may be able to help. We have already seen the benefits of social prescribing elsewhere in East Suffolk and are pleased to see this service made available across the district.”
Community connectors have been working in Ipswich since the end of February and will soon begin operating across parts of East Suffolk. Most are based at GP practices but some will be based in the community to provide outreach services.
Social prescribing is already available to patients in the north of the district, at surgeries including Kirkley Mill in Lowestoft and Beccles Medical Centre.
To learn more about the services they can offer, members of the public are invited to attend the following Connect for Health launch events: