Policy Impact Hub case study: Social Prescribing

This case study explains how the Healthy Living Centre Alliance is playing a role in the growing movement towards social prescribing in Northern Ireland
Social Prescribing

1. What are your organisation’s aims and how does influencing policy help achieve them? 

The Healthy Living Centre Alliance is a network of Healthy Living Centres (HLCs). HLCs are health improvement projects based in areas of high health inequalities in the greater Belfast area, Derry, Tyrone, Fermanagh, Lisburn, Armagh and the Ards Peninsula.

HLCs are community-led health improvement initiatives – i.e. adopting a bottom-up partnership approach, engaging local people and organisations as local assets to work collectively to address health inequalities and to improve the health of their neighbourhood.

The Regional Co-ordinator of the Healthy Living Centre Alliance is Tony Doherty.

2. What was the issue?  Why was there a need for policy change?

Many people in Northern Ireland are dealing with a wide range of problems such as loneliness, financial problems, mental health and chronic pain. Often these are related, and traditional models of primary care do not adequately address the wider social detriments of health and wellbeing.

For that cohort of people, it was important to provide ‘what matters to them, not what is the matter with them’.

It was recognised that there were a substantial number of people visiting their GP for psycho-social reasons and that GPs and other primary care professionals needed a rote into the community sector for patients to participate in social activities.

3. What was the policy solution or approach advocated to policy and decision-makers?

Social prescribing is a means of enabling GPs, nurses and other primary care professionals to refer people to a range of local, non-clinical services.

Recognising that people’s health is determined primarily by a range of social, economic and environmental factors, social prescribing seeks to address people’s needs in a holistic way. It also aims to support individuals to take greater control of their own health.

Social prescribing can involve a variety of activities which are typically provided by voluntary and community sector organisations such as volunteering, arts activities, gardening, befriending, cookery, healthy eating advice and a range of sports.

4. How was it advocated?

Social prescribing is growing organically on a UK and Ireland basis. An all-Ireland Social Prescribing Network has been established and meets quarterly in Monaghan.

March 14 2019 marked the first International Social Prescribing Day, with a focus on the relevance and importance of social prescribing within health and social care.

5. What was the outcome and public benefit provided by the policy change?

As the movement towards social prescribing gathers pace, in recently the Northern Integrated Care Partnership developed My Social Prescription, a model for older people in the North West. Other ICP-supported social prescribing projects in Northern Ireland include IMPACTAgewell, led by Mid & East Antrim Agewell Partnership; and Belfast’s Connected Community care service.