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Social Prescribing: “Better than a tonic”

Over the past five years a different approach to healthcare has grown throughout the island of Ireland, one that is backed through policy and funding by Northern and Southern statutory agencies and departments. Social prescribing complements a medical approach to health issues, aims to support individuals to take greater control of their own health and involves a variety of activities which are typically provided by voluntary and community sector organisations.

'Better than a tonic'

Describing his social prescribing experience as “better than a tonic”  Frank Price outlined how he learned to use technology and how, along with newly found friends, they took on a virtual walking challenge during the pandemic and how the whole process has been beneficial for him. 

Social Prescribing Conference

The third All-Ireland Social Prescribing Conference was recently held in Derry, with the aim of the cross border event to highlight the social prescribing projects based in community centres, healthy living centres, primary care centres and hospitals throughout the island of Ireland.

The conference - under the heading -  ‘Social Prescribing: Celebrating and Sustaining Throughout the Island’ underlined the critical role of social prescribing services based in communities and highlighted the growth and development of social prescribing north and south, providing a forum for shared learning throughout the island of Ireland.

Helen Deely, HSE Assistant National Director for Health and Wellbeing Programmes explained that “there are currently 31 HSE funded social prescribing services across the country. Nineteen of these sites are Sláintecare Healthy Communities sites based in areas of disadvantage across the country. All HSE funded social prescribing services are delivered in partnership with community and voluntary organisations. She added that Working together in partnership is the key to the development of social prescribing.”

Social prescribing is a formal way of linking  medical healthcare providers: GPs; Mental Health practitioners; Occupational Therapists (OTs) and Hospital Consultants, to community-based social supports that radically improve the health and wellbeing of people they are seeing to such an extent that visits to GPs, where there is an active social prescribing project, can drop by up to 20%. What is offered is often a complement to medical treatment, but on occasion it can replace a medical solution. A person is offered a ‘social’ prescription rather than a medical one. They are linked to a social prescribing link worker who expands out what would support their health and wellbeing through locally-based community programmes.

Minister of State for Public Health, Wellbeing and National Drugs Strategy Frank Feighan and Derry City and Strabane District Council Mayor Sandra Duffy opened the cross border event, with Minister Feighan expressing his delight:

“Social prescribing is a simple, and yet profound idea, linking people with sources of community support and social interaction, through arts and creativity, physical activity, green activity, computerised therapy and more.  It counteracts social isolation and improves connectedness for people; an important support for mental health, particularly following the impacts of the Covid 19 pandemic.”