Full of beans from the Kings Fund Social Prescribing: Coming of Age conference earlier this month, I set off excitedly to the South East’s Regional Social Prescribing conference, “Collaborating for growth”, funded by NHS England.
On arrival, I spent the first 10 minutes of ‘networking’, nervously sitting in the car! (Come’ on, don’t tell me you haven’t been there at some point!) I was trying to perfect my spiel, “who I am, why I am here”. I find conversations like this particularly tricky. Whilst others represent their place of work, I am here as an individual, someone passionate about social prescribing, but not yet quite sure which direction it is going to take me in. Most assume I want to be a link worker, perhaps because of my nursing background and the fact I am happy to volunteer my time. But I don’t want to be hands on in the delivery of social prescribing to individuals. I am getting more and more interested in delivery at a service level.
It is safe to say the ‘car park rehearsal time’ was worth it! As I entered the conference, Craig Lister, managing director of TCV’s Green Gym™, welcomed me and said good morning. I knew Craig from being the guest speaker on the previous evenings #SocialPrescribing @SocialPresHour. The power of social media hey! Craig introduced me to Nicky Saynor from Public Health England who was very encouraging and supported my presence at the conference as a “Social Prescribing Champion” and an ‘asset’. Much better than the ‘nobody’ in the car… so far so good!
Cllr Norman Webster, aka the Political Tsar of Social Prescribing, hosted the ‘Welcome and Introduction’, with Dr Laura Hill. It was clear from his address, that Norman is passionate about his community and helping people to make the very best of the hand they have been dealt in life. Dr Laura Hill spoke about the national award-winning Crawley Dementia Alliance which she co-leads and aims to make Crawley a Dementia Friendly Community.
Hearing that Crawley has pioneering Social Prescribing schemes, made me question if there might be a piece of the puzzle missing. I have worked, albeit not in dementia, in Crawley for a number of years within Sussex Community Foundation NHS Trust, yet I haven’t heard of the pioneering social prescribing initiatives there. Whilst community assets are at the centre of Social Prescribing and I can totally understand the focus on GP’s, link workers and the VCS, the benefits of Social Prescribing need to be recognised supported and partnered by the whole system. I found myself looking down the delegates list realising there was no representation from local NHS Trust organisations at this conference which in itself speaks volumes. Getting trusts aligned and plugged in to both social prescribing, personalisation and local initiatives, could be really exciting. I made a note to myself to pursue this further.
As if by cue, the perfect line up of keynote speakers helped me to consider the behaviour change and cultural shift needed to ensure these local NHS trusts are on board and represent Social Prescribing in the future…
Dr. David Paynton used a case study to portray the GP’s perspective of Social Prescribing and Personalised care. He eloquently highlighted how the current system is not meeting ‘Gladys’ ‘ needs with its ‘pass the parcel’ culture.
“We need to work with people, support them to take greater ownership for their health and wellbeing and what’s important to them, and then meet NHS outcomes”.
Nicola Gitsham, Head of Personalised Care, NHSE, talked through how Personalised Care sits within Social Prescribing. Set out in NHSE’s Comprehensive Model of Personalised Care , which links to their Personalised Care Operating Model she described how people want a life not a service. To achieve this we need all sorts of parts of system to come together to enable people to live their lives, their way.
I have had the pleasure of hearing Nicola speak previously. She is really passionate about inclusion and people having person centred support, joined up at the point of the individual so they can live their lives their way. It is inspiring to hear her words. She highlighted that redesigning the work force and changing commissioning and finance should be the heart of the transformation, but reassured us that whilst difficult, it is possible to do at scale. Her main message was that personalised care has a big impact for people, but also the workforce and the system, It is not about saving money but if done well can use resources more wisely.
The result will be:
“Better health and wellbeing for individuals, better quality and experience of care that is integrated and tailored around what really matters to individuals, and more sustainable NHS services”
Bev Taylor, Senior Manager for Personalised Care for NHS England, and Craig Lister were responsible for setting the national and regional scene of Social Prescribing. They introduced both NHSE’s objectives in Social Prescribing and presented a model of Social Prescribing. Bev described social prescribing as a bottom up social movement and reminded us of the social model of health… as little as 10% of a population’s health and wellbeing is linked to access to healthcare. Whilst the vision is to have social prescribing mainstream funded and by 2023 the government has committed to
“Support all local health and care systems to implement social prescribing connector schemes across the whole country, supporting government’s aim to have a universal social prescribing national offer available in GP practices,
I appreciated Craig’s exploration of the ‘trailing edge’. A lot of discussion is on the ‘cutting edge’, but Craig highlighted the merit in looking at the good stuff already there; if we can improve your optimism and make you happier you will receive the health message better and be more likely to engage to improve your health. I also enjoyed the pragmatism, acknowledging that from a risk perspective the worst thing we can do is nothing and anything above that is better. Craig spoke about his passion for evolutionary physiology and supporting health and wellbeing outside the standard medical model. He is currently supporting the development of a triple lock quality assurance process that would enable the scaling of social prescribing across the UK, in line with the publishing of NHSE’s Common Outcomes Framework to ensure social prescribing initiatives can be delivered consistently and measured comparably.
There were two breakaway workshop sessions to attend. I chose to look at how we engage the social prescribing system with wider community assets which certainly did not disappoint. The workshop included a great session on social movement theory and sparked discussion on how we might develop a unified, consistent approach. The potential for ring fenced, shared investment funding for community volunteering was suggested.
After lunch and networking, we were given a minute’s silence to reflect upon the morning and everything we had taken away from it. It was at this moment that I reflected that I was inspired and almost giddy with excitement at the Kings Fund conference which encouraged me to champion my #socialprescribingschemedream, but I found myself struggling at times and would have quite liked the floor to open and swallow me up at this conference. I reflected on why this was? Everyone had been so friendly, I don’t think I had made too many faux pas and I hadn’t spilt lunch down myself despite the precarious nature of attempting to eat at networking events!
I realised this conference was regional and explored social prescribing from a different perspective; the theories, practicalities and realities for those actually setting up, partnering, delivering and evaluating initiatives, on the ground. Quite rightly there was a lot more participation and engagement at this conference from people involved in ‘doing’ social prescribing. I am finding the more I delve into social prescribing and immerse myself in it, the more challenging this initially quite simple concept becomes, certainly to embed. Given that I am still developing my #socialprescribingschemedream surrounded by those who are both practicing and preaching social prescribing, it is understandable that I might feel alone and quite out of my depth.
The second workshop I attended was about developing the South East Social Prescribing network, and it could not have come at a better time for me! Just when I was feeling alone in setting out on my social prescribing journey, Malcolm Bray, South East Social Prescribing Regional Facilitator, highlighted the networks intent to create a space to have a proper conversation, reduce professional isolation, work together and share experiences and challenges. Setting up a platform for individuals to feel part of a community of practise with other like-minded individuals is a fantastic resource not just for me but everyone who has an interest in Social Prescribing throughout the South East Region. Whilst at the Kings Fund Social Prescribing: Coming of Age conference I felt like I was part of a movement, following this conference I know that I am part of a social prescribing community locally which for an individual setting out in Social Prescribing, is a fantastic feeling.
Whilst at the moment I am definitely still at the ideas stage, ‘Collaborating for Growth’ and the networking opportunities this provided, has focused me now on how I am going to shape my #socialprescribingschemedream. I want to look at strategically, how people like me, a health professional, can best engage in this fantastic bottom up social movement, because I believe this is where there might be an opportunity to enhance all the great work that’s started. My interests particularly lie in nursing, children and young people, health visiting and engaging behaviour change within the NHS towards Social Prescribing. I am going to use both the South East Social Prescribing network, and the Future NHS collaboration Online Platform to immerse myself in the social prescribing community and evaluate how #mysocialprescribingschemedream can be as transformative as I would currently want.
So to conclude, I started the day in the car park nervous about how I was going to fit in at a conference of people delivering social prescribing. At times I was both inspired and disconcerted. But, the main thing is, I finished the day inspired and more determined, with a clear focus and a platform! Being part of the South East Social Prescribing community is an honour. Thank you to all those who collaborate on these sites and make them what they are. Onwards and upwards!