Study praises new approach to GP visits

December 22, 2016
Study praises new approach to GP visits
Credit: University of the West of England

A cultural shift in how patients access care through their GPs is one step closer after a university study highlighted the benefits of an emerging approach known as 'social prescribing'.

Heralded as one solution to mounting pressure on the NHS, social prescribing links patients with non-medical needs to sources of support run by charities and voluntary groups within their community.

Health experts believe the approach has the potential to relieve strain on overstretched GP surgeries and help reduce social exclusion among patients struggling with problems including isolation and .

Among the organisations accepting referrals from GPs through social prescribing include Age UK, Citizens Advice and the Samaritans.

A researcher from the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) carried out an evaluation of the cost-effectiveness of a social prescribing trial being run in Gloucestershire, one of several parts of the UK piloting the service.

Public Health Economist Dr Richard Kimberlee found the county's trailblazing approach had been successful - helping to reduce GP appointments in practice, on the phone and home visits, cut A&E emergency admissions, get people back into work and even help prevent attempted suicide.

He believes his findings add further authority to growing calls for social prescribing to be rolled out to all GP surgeries across the country to reduce the burden on the NHS.

Dr Kimberlee said: "From the patient's point of view, social prescribing offers space to talk about symptoms and concerns about wellbeing. These are things they might not be able to express to a GP and that a GP wouldn't necessarily have time to address in a consultation lasting only 10 minutes.

"Under this approach, GPs start to see patients who typically have a high demand on their resources less often."

Health commissioners are starting to turn to social prescribing as a possible answer to pressures on the NHS, including the increasing strain on GP services, the growing number of appointments for non-medical reasons, the rising burden of mental health and long term conditions, an expanding aging population and a reduction in universal welfare provision.

The approach identifies patients who present for non-medical reasons or whose health needs need to be better managed. They can be referred to services provided by the voluntary and community sector including arts groups and exercise classes or put in touch with organisations offering help with everything from legal issues to parenting problems. In most cases, a GP will refer a patient to a co-ordinator who works tirelessly to identify their needs then refers onwards or draws on community resources.

Dr Kimberlee is a founding member of the Social Prescribing Network, which is monitoring the progress of 400 social prescribing projects already running in the UK in areas including Bath & North East Somerset, South Gloucestershire and North West Somerset.

Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group (GCCG) introduced its county-wide social prescribing service in 2014 as part of a plan aimed at creating a cultural shift from a "reactive, disease-focussed fragmented model of care towards one that is more proactive, holistic and preventative". The county currently has a social prescribing co-ordinator in every GP practice.

In his study, Dr Kimberlee found 2,047 patients had been referred to receive Gloucestershire's social prescribing service – one of the largest in the country – up until August 2016. Reasons for referral included mental health and wellbeing; benefits, housing or environmental advice; generic health and fitness; carers support; social isolation and memory loss. Patients were referred on to more than 230 different organisations including Age UK, the Barnwood Trust, Citizens Advice and Carers Gloucestershire.

Dr Kimberlee found patients using the service experienced improved wellbeing and . He calculated the cost of the service – a £480,819 investment by GCCG – equated to £234.88 per patient. Dr Kimberlee, a Senior Research Fellow, estimated a return on investment of £1.69 for every £1 spent on the service.

Of the study's findings, he said: "The results confirm what was found in a similar evaluation in Rochdale a short time ago. In terms of utilising primary care, there was a significant reduction in visits and phone calls – and this was only during a six-month period. If you could track the service over a longer period, you would see a more dramatic result and the savings would be greater.

"I'm very much convinced of the great benefits social prescribing brings to GP practises, particularly among those patients taking up a lot of resources. These are patients who make a lot of GP visits for many reasons, some of which will be non-medical, while others will be for problems that can be effectively self-managed with support. With a diminishing welfare state, the pressure on health service providers is exponentially growing and they need to think quickly to stem the tide."

Dr Simon Opher MBE, Clinical Lead for Social Prescribing at GCCG, said: "This study reinforces the increasing body of evidence which shows that social prescribing can help people who wouldn't necessarily gain much benefit from the healthcare system. It therefore helps to improve the overall health of the population.

"People in Britain today are less engaged within their communities than ever before and this project supports them to reconnect. Social isolation has been said to be one of the major causes of ill : social prescribing reduces this burden and can therefore reduce the stress on the NHS."

Explore further: Electronic prescribing of high-risk meds may contribute to falls in elderly

Related Stories

Electronic prescribing of high-risk meds may contribute to falls in elderly

November 28, 2016
Certain medications are considered high risk in elders. In a recent study of 287 individuals ?65 years who experienced a fall while hospitalized at an urban academic hospital, 62 percent of falls occurred in patients in whom ...

Electronic prescriptions associated with less nonadherence to dermatologic Rx

October 26, 2016
Does how a prescription for dermatologic medicine is written - either on paper or electronically—matter when it comes to whether patients will fill it and pick it up?

Feedback for GPs helps to reduce high-risk prescription rates, study shows

August 25, 2016
Regular feedback to GP practices reviewing the safety of their prescribing of drugs to patients can help significantly lower the risk of adverse drug reactions, a new study co-led by the University of Dundee and University ...

Many elderly people are receiving and using prescription medications inappropriately

July 17, 2016
A new study from Belgium indicates that the majority of community-dwelling elderly adults are taking prescription medications inappropriately. The study, which is published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, ...

Frugal antibiotic prescribing associated with lower GP satisfaction scores

December 7, 2015
Reduced antibiotic prescribing is associated with lower patient satisfaction on the national General Practice Patient Survey, according to a new study by King's College London. The study found a 25 per cent lower rate of ...

Elderly women more likely to be overprescribed prescription drugs

May 5, 2016
Nearly one in three British Columbia women over age 65 received inappropriate prescription medicines in 2013, according to a University of British Columbia study. One in four men of the same age received similar prescriptions.

Recommended for you

Cancer drugs' high prices not justified by cost of development, study contends

September 12, 2017
(HealthDay)— Excusing the sky-high price tags of many new cancer treatments, pharmaceutical companies often blame high research and development (R&D) costs.

Non-psychotropic cannabinoids show promise for pain relief

September 4, 2017
Some cancers love bone. They thrive in its nutrient-rich environment while gnawing away at the very substrate that sustains them, all the while releasing inflammatory substances that cause pain—pain so severe that opioids ...

Fentanyl drives rise in opioid-linked deaths in U.S.

August 31, 2017
(HealthDay)—Fentanyl, a synthetic narcotic, is a key player in America's continuing epidemic of opioid-related overdose deaths, two new studies report.

Eating triggers endorphin release in the brain

August 28, 2017
Finnish researchers have revealed how eating stimulates brain's endogenous opioid system to signal pleasure and satiety.

Cholesterol-lowering drugs may fight infectious disease

August 21, 2017
That statin you've been taking to lower your risk of heart attack or stroke may one day pull double duty, providing protection against a whole host of infectious diseases, including typhoid fever, chlamydia, and malaria.

Data revealed under FOI shows benefits of multiple sclerosis drug currently blocked by regulators

August 17, 2017
A drug that is blocked by the EU regulatory system has now been found to improve the quality of life of people with multiple sclerosis (MS), according to a study by Queen Mary University of London (QMUL).


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.