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The important role social prescribing plays in residents' health and wellbeing

Date: 8 March 2023
Author: Callum Harvey
Title: Social Prescribing and Community Development Manager

In this partner Q&A, Callum Harvey, Social Prescribing and Community Development Manager at local charity (and the Mayor's Charity of the Year) Ruils Independent Living, explains what exactly 'social prescribing' is, and why this growing service is so beneficial to residents who want to take more control over their health and wellbeing.

What does Ruils Independent Living do, and how does social prescribing fit in?

Ruils Independent Living is a local charity that supports disabled children, adults and the elderly to live independent lives by providing information, advice, advocacy, practical support, activities and befriending.

In partnership with the Richmond GP Alliance, they are delivering social prescribing across Richmond. This is a service that supports people to take control of their health and wellbeing by connecting them with activities and support in their local community.

Can you explain how social prescribing works?

We know taking care of your health involves more than just medicine. Social prescribing empowers people to take control of their health and wellbeing.

Our referrals come from healthcare professionals and other staff within GP surgeries, including GPs, nurses, healthcare assistants and reception staff. We meet with people to understand more about their social needs and what they want to change. Following this, we can explore opportunities in the local community that can help them feel better. We work to personalise each action plan to individual's needs.

We aim to improve social, emotional and physical wellbeing.

What do Link Workers do?

The role of a Social Prescribing Link Worker is to connect individuals to emotional and practical support, services and activities available in their community. This is dependent on the reasons why someone has been referred.

We focus on what is important and what matters to the person. We provide follow-up appointments for a short period of time to ensure the actions agreed at the start are completed.

Who might benefit from social prescribing?

We can work with anyone over the age of 18 and registered with a GP surgery in Richmond. The main reasons for referral include social isolation, mental health and weight management, but we can support with a broad range of social needs.

We aren't an emergency service and are unable to support clients who are in a social or mental health crisis. These clients are referred to other services in the borough who are able to address immediate need.

Do the Link Workers meet up with people face-to-face or online?

We provide a range of appointments and use a variety of methods to meet the preferences of our clients. We can meet people at the surgery, at home or within community spaces. We also provide appointments over the telephone, video call or other methods to ensure we remain accessible.

What sort of thing would be prescribed to someone?

We work with clients to connect them to a wide range of community services. This can include advice on benefits, finances and housing. It can be focused on seeking employment, training or volunteering. We connect people with social activities through community centres, libraries, churches and other community-based venues.

The team work closely with other organisations to meet their client’s needs. There is a great resource of knowledge and skills within the voluntary sector that we utilise and are thankful for their support.

Social prescribing was introduced in Richmond just before the pandemic. Can you tell us what impact the COVID-19 pandemic had in terms of demand for social prescribing?

We received a high number of referrals during the start of the service due to the pandemic, responding to those who were shielding by connecting them with services to collect medication, shopping and remain connected through befriending services.

Through this period, we have seen an increased need for those affected by the pandemic in increasing their confidence to return to services previously supporting them, or seeking new activities. We have worked on over 7,000 cases to date and making over 15,000 connections to the community.

How can someone access social prescribing?

If you want to learn more about the service, there is information on our website and also social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram).

Anyone in Richmond upon Thames over the age of 18 and registered with a GP can access social prescribing. If you think you would benefit, speak with any professional at your GP surgery and they can refer you into the service.

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Updated: 8 March 2023