Project to help GPs support patients with non-medical issues is just what the doctor ordered

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A new project which will work with GPs to support patients who need more community-based services is set to get underway this summer.

The so-called “social prescribing” project will be hosted by Chichester District Council in partnership with the two Local Community Networks in Chichester. These include GP practices in the north and south of the district, plus the local NHS, West Sussex County Council, local housing associations and voluntary groups.

GPs will identify and refer patients who frequently seek their help for essentially non-medical problems.

Councillor Eileen Lintill, cabinet member for community services at Chichester District Council, explained: “In many cases a patient will make an appointment with their GP for what appears to be on the surface, a medical matter, but will actually require much more than the GP is able to deal with.

“Often, it will need a more holistic and community-based solution. Around 70 per cent of people who visit their GP have an underlining issue which isn’t necessarily medical. A patient could be feeling isolated and lonely, not managing a chronic condition well or have problems due to debt, for example not sleeping. Many of these things will impact on a person’s physical and mental health and manifest themselves in medical symptoms.

“This project will employ ‘community referrers’ who will spend time with patients, working with them to get to the root causes, and help them find long-term solutions. This project has the potential to make a difference to many people’s lives across the district.”

The district council has agreed £114,000 to help fund the pilot for two years, with match funding made up from several organisations including Chichester GPs, Rural North Chichester GPs, Clarion and A2 Dominion housing associations and the Midhurst League of Friends.

A total of four  community referrers, with specialist skills, will be based in the community. Two will work with the GP practice teams in the north, and two will work in the south of the district, building relationships with the practices. GPs will then identify appropriate patients and refer them to the service. It is anticipated that the service could help 600 to 700 people a year and reduce repeat GP visits by 10 per cent.

“We see many patients where social problems and stresses are making them mentally and physically unwell,” says Dr Emma Woodcock, senior partner at Loxwood Medical Practice. “Despite treating these illnesses, we remain frustrated that we cannot help the patient resolve the underlying cause, and have nowhere to refer them for the support they need. A community referrer in our team will transform the care we can offer our patients.

“The aim of this project is to enable GPs to help a very specific group of patients access the right support as quickly as possible, and prevent them falling through the gaps. Similar social prescribing projects have been set up elsewhere in the country.

“These projects have been shown to be effective in connecting people with their community and empowering them to access groups, activities and services and enabling them to make positive changes to their own lives.”

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Carl Eldridge
Carl Eldridge is a hugely experienced journalist who has worked on local and national newspapers, magazines and written for websites over the past 30 years. He lives in Bognor Regis with his wife and son. And he is a life-long Arsenal fan.