Social Prescribing in Frome – the evidence is out there

| Helen Sharp

Patients who once asked, “What are you going to do about my problem?” now say “This is what I’m thinking of doing next.”

George Monbiot recently reported in the Guardian on a project that has been running in the small Somerset town of Frome which might at last demonstrate significant, indefatigable evidence of the benefits of community intervention through social prescribing.

Frome boasts a pioneering GP – Helen Kingston – who in 2013 started the Compassionate Frome Project. She was responding to the large number of patients who complained of the medicalisation of their lives and her staff who felt demoralised and stressed by the silo working. In broad terms, she and her team created a social prescribing project with the help of volunteers and connectors – similar to the one based at Robin Lane Surgery which we’ve featured on the Hub.This included training ‘community connectors’ to help support patients in many areas including helping with housing and debt problems to helping people join choirs, exercise classes and lunch clubs.

To those of us who are frequent flyers in the world of social prescribing, this is great stuff but what is particularly remarkable is the evidence they have managed to gather as a result.

Nothing has been formally published yet but early indications appear to show that when isolated people who have health problems are supported by community groups and volunteers, the number of emergency admissions to hospital falls spectacularly. While across the whole of Somerset, emergency hospital admissions rose by 29% during the three years of the study, in Frome they fell by 17%.

Last week the results were published informally in the Resurgence and Ecologist and a scientific paper is awaiting submission in a medical journal. There is other evidence out there supporting social prescribing but as Julian Abel, the lead author of the draft paper, remarks: “No other interventions on record have reduced emergency admissions across a population.”

It is worth reading George’s full article in full because it contains an interesting explanation of the physiological effects of loneliness and how they can exacerbate social isolation as well as featuring other sources of evidence on the benefits of community and connections from research as early as 1945.

Could this be the turning point for the NHS? Surely the sceptics can’t argue against these amazing results!

Photo by João Silas

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