Northamptonshire Pioneering Social Prescribing Service

Northamptonshire is to become the first area in England to introduce an integrated cross-sector and county-wide service supporting people to take control of their health and wellbeing – after long-term funding was formally approved.

Northamptonshire County Council’s Public Health team, local NHS organisations and the voluntary and community sector have been working together through Northamptonshire Health and Care Partnership (NHCP) to develop a social prescribing programme serving the whole county.

Social prescribing is a way of helping people to manage their own physical and mental health and wellbeing and achieve sustained lifestyle change. They work closely with a specialist ‘link worker’, who can refer them to relevant non-medical services in their local communities, such as leisure activities, social groups and healthy lifestyle advice.

On Tuesday 17 December NHCP secured formal approval from Northamptonshire Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) and Northamptonshire County Council’s Cabinet for the investment required for the programme.

The decision paves the way for a £3.57m outcomes grant from the Government’s Life Chances Fund. Bridges Outcomes Partnerships, a specialist social enterprise that supports impact-driven outcomes-based contracts, has worked with NHCP to develop the programme and has agreed in principle to fund the up-front delivery costs. This means the service would be funded county-wide for at least the next five years, with a potential total investment of £14m.

Toby Sanders, Joint Chief Executive of the Northamptonshire CCGs, said: “This is a momentous decision for Northamptonshire. We know that the healthcare we receive is just one of a number of factors that influence our overall health and wellbeing – and poor health is actually much more likely to be the result of things like the lifestyles we lead, the environments we live in and the stresses of daily life*.

“Many of the issues that lead to ill health can’t be fixed by medicines, so it’s hugely important that we have the right support in place to give people more control over their own health and wellbeing and manage their needs in ways that work for them and are available in their own communities.”

Councillor Ian Morris, Northamptonshire County Council Cabinet member for Adult Social Care and Public Health, added: “Evidence shows that social prescribing can lead to a range of positive health and wellbeing outcomes for people, such as improved quality of life and emotional wellbeing**. This helps to reduce people’s dependence on traditional health and care services to stay well, which, in turn, helps us to ensure these services are more sustainable for the future.

“We’re delighted we now have the go-ahead to begin implementing Northamptonshire’s new social prescribing service in the New Year, and people can expect to start to see the first evidence of its county-wide availability by the summer of 2020.”

Social prescribing is one of the national priorities outlined in the NHS Long Term Plan, and although it is already in practice around the country, Northamptonshire is believed to be the first area in England to establish an integrated social prescribing service at a county-wide level.

At the heart of the service are social prescribing ‘link workers’, who are responsible for working with individuals to understand their needs, plan what steps they could take to improve their health and wellbeing and help them to access appropriate services. People can be referred to a link worker by their GP, nurse or other health or social care professional.

A number of social prescribing link workers are already employed by GP practices across Northamptonshire, and the new county-wide service will recruit more while ensuring that all have access to the same training, development and support to succeed in their roles.

Crucially, NHCP will also work closely with Northamptonshire’s voluntary and community sector to plan, fund and deliver the necessary infrastructure to ensure local services have the capacity to meet the needs of people who need to access them.

The new service will focus particularly on groups of people in our community who can benefit most from social prescribing interventions: people with mental health issues, those living with multiple long-term health conditions, carers and people experiencing social isolation.

Northamptonshire’s social prescribing programme has been developed through conversations with local people – including health and care professionals, potential service providers and potential service users – at three successful community engagement events held around the county earlier this year.