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Guest Blog: Social Prescribing and Mental Health

– Brendan Hill, CEO, Mental Health Concern

Social Prescribing, link work, and community-based support have come to the fore over the last couple of years partly as a result of being included in the NHS Long-Term plan’s commitment to make personalised care ‘business as usual’ across the health and care system. This is clearly a welcome approach, helping promote the idea that ones’ support and care are planned and delivered, based on what matters most to the person.

This approach to engaging with people around their priorities and delivering services within the context of their lives is one which the voluntary and community sector has been well versed for many years. The sector has been supporting people to access and make best use of the resources around them long before the NHS Long-Term Plan’s emphasis on ‘social prescribing’.

Pre-NHS Long-Term Plan

Mental Health Concern (MHC) have been delivering ‘social prescribing’ via link work projects for the past 12 years following the recommissioning and redesign of day services. MHCs approach was to move people away from using traditional buildings based ‘drop in’ centres to supporting them to identify their own key challenges, opportunities and aspirations and utilise the resources already in existence within their communities to, feel connected, sustain their recovery and enable the development of coping mechanisms that better enable ‘self-management’. As a mental health charity, supporting mental wellbeing and personal resilience was and remains at the centre of our approach. Social determinants, trauma and inequalities are significant factors in why people ‘arrive at our door’ and so they therefore need to be addressed and included in how we then provide help.

Our Moving Forward services were initially set up specifically to support people with more complex mental health issues; including those that had endured prolonged periods of hospitalisation, intensive support from secondary care mental health teams, and multiple presentations at A&E and their GPs. A personalised approach was taken, with the aim of helping people to;

  • Rediscover their self confidence
  • Learn new skills, or rediscover old interests
  • Build a stronger social network and have more people to spend time with
  • Get back into education or training
  • Find paid or voluntary work.

We achieve this by providing everyone with a ‘Link Worker’, whose job it is to help the person choose the right activity at the right time and place, giving the right amount of support to make this work.

We also support the development of new social prescribing activities by identifying people who share the same interests and helping them to set up their own interest group, if one doesn’t already exist. We work at the person’s own pace, both one-to-one and in supporting members to start an activity, if needed.

Moving Forward is one of numerous examples of how ‘social prescribing’ and the use of ‘personalised care’ has been delivered across VCSE services for a considerable time prior to this latest push from NHS England.

Newcastle.Gateshead Social Prescribing Collaborative

In 2017 the Linkwork services that were already commissioned by our local CCG and Local Authorities came together amid growing confusion regarding available provision and the nature of that provision across the two areas. The strategic aims of this group were to;

  • Provide greater clarity with regard to social prescribing and asset-based community building approaches.
  • Simplify access to services for referrers and potential participants.
  • Provide supporting data to measure and analyse impact of a coordinated system.

This group has continued to meet and is now working alongside the CCG (who act as an independent Chair) and Local Authorities to provide expert, representative views on all Link Work/ Social Prescribing activities in the area.

The collaborative also feeds into the ‘Regional Social Prescribing’ Network and works closely with the regional lead (who is Vice Chair), who is tasked with engaging at a national level with the NHSE team.

Achievements so far:

Newcastle Gateshead ‘Link Work Connector Programme’

Mental Health Concern secured a total of £490,000 from NHSE VCSE Health & Wellbeing fund over 3 years to deliver the Connector Programme, using our existing Moving Forward Services as match funding for the project.

The project is delivered in partnership with;

  • Newcastle / Gateshead Moving Forward services
  • Newcastle Chain Reaction Service
  • Newcastle GP Services
  • HealthWORKS
  • Edberts House
  • Ways to Wellness

The bid centred around addressing the issues which were raised by the collaborative members in 2017 and aims to

  • Understand the social prescribing and link work resource that exists within our community
  • Provide cross service coordination
  • Develop a common language to describe the types of linkwork services operating (i.e. from ‘signposting’ to “shoulder to shoulder”)
  • Provide a benchmark to help standardise some elements of provision across the area.

The programme unlike all other H&WB Fund supported projects focuses on adding value to existing provision within our communities, with the aim of facilitating link work providers to work better together to develop and deliver coordinated and sustainable services across Newcastle and Gateshead. The project is one year through its 3 year journey and is beginning to deliver on its key outcomes (see link below for further information);

The Collaborative and its members

  • Edberts House have recently been appointed as the PCN Social Prescribing Link Work Training regional coordinators for the North East and North Cumbria ICS.
  • The Collaborative’s members have been identified as the providers of the PCN social prescribing Link Workers across a significant number of areas in the NE, these include the following;
    • Edberts House delivering for the whole of Gateshead
    • First Contact Clinical delivering across North and South Tyneside
    • MHC delivering across 3 PCNs in Newcastle
    • Newcastle GP Services delivering across 3 PCNs in Newcastle
    • Healthworks delivering to 1 PCN in Newcastle
  • MHC will be hosting the North East and Cumbria Link Work Training Hub. MHC as Collaborative lead have agreed with Health Education England that they will invest funding from their Workforce Transformation Programme, to run the first ICS wide Link Work training programme. This initiative will bring the NHSE sponsored, accredited Connexus programme to Newcastle in February 2020. This is with a view to training a cohort of 25 existing Link Workers to gain the accredited qualification, then identify from this cohort a number of people who are interested in completing a ‘train the trainer’ programme to ensure that the course can continue to be delivered in a sustainable and affordable way.