Penny Brohn UK

Help change life with cancer. For good

Social prescribing and the Government’s vision

Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, speaking at the event on social prescribing

On Tuesday 6 November an event dedicated to social prescribing was held in London and attended by Health Secretary, the Rt Hon Matt Hancock. The Health Secretary outlined ways that social prescribing could be used to help with long term conditions along with the Government’s vision for putting prevention at the heart of the nation’s health.  Social prescribing is a key player in prevention and person-centred care but this can only truly exist when conventional healthcare is fully integrated. 

Why social prescribing makes sense

Social prescribing isn’t a new concept, in fact Penny Brohn UK has been advocating social prescribing for nearly 40 years. Here are eight ways that we incorporate social prescribing into what we do, and why it should form part of all healthcare processes:

  • We all need more than medicine: there’s more to health than simply what’s going on in our bodies.
  • It’s all about building resilience: to be resilient and to function as well as we can, we need to pay more attention to our mental, physical and spiritual health, not just our physical health.
  • Taking back control: through self-help techniques you can build confidence and self-awareness around when to access medical services, and how.
  • Community and social activities: social isolation and loneliness is a frequent outcome of long term health conditions.
  • Ease the strain on the NHS: we work with the NHS and conventional treatment to give people the tools they need to manage stress, eat well and to exercise in a way that suits them and their current status of health.
  • Patient-centred care: someone’s long term health condition doesn’t define them, they’re an individual person with their own set of hopes and needs.
  • Integrative medicine: our evidence-based therapies work alongside standard medical treatment to achieve the best health and wellbeing.
  • Support for supporters: we understand the impact of cancer on supporters’ psychological and emotional health, and believe they need knowledge and skills to support more effectively.

Back to the core of the Health Secretary’s vision; prevention. This vision makes sense in terms of, we do play a part in our health and wellbeing, but when it comes to cancer, more often than not there’s not a great deal we can do to stop ourselves getting the disease. There are certain lifestyle factors such as being overweight, lack of exercise and smoking which can increase our chances, but managing your weight, exercising and quitting cigarettes aren’t a cancer-free guarantee. Therefore prevention doesn’t lead to fewer cases of the disease.

So what can we do?

If we can’t find a way to prevent all cancers we can focus on living well with cancer, and that’s where social prescribing comes in. If the 2.5 million people who have cancer and who’ll be living with the impact beyond their diagnosis can be supported to self-manage their conditions effectively, millions more days of better quality life could be saved, and demand on urgent care reduced.

An independent economic evaluation of our Living Well course showed a saving of £13-14,000 per person with cancer.

But where and how can this be accessed? In order for social prescribing to become the norm in GP surgeries around the country, there also needs to be access to the community and voluntary sectors that social prescribing relies on as well as green spaces, arts and culture. Penny Brohn UK is based just outside Bristol and we provide our services across the country, but we rely on charitable donations and the dedicated work of volunteers to keep our services free. Our aim is to reach as many people living with the impact of cancer as possible, but we have nearly 40 years of experience that got us here. This kind of support needs to be available geographically and demographically.

Fundamentally if social prescribing is to succeed and become part of all healthcare professional’s MO there needs to be a shift in attitude towards integrating complementary and conventional treatments. People with long term conditions, be it physical or mental need to be supported holistically, and treated as individuals and not a labelled condition.

Therefore, we do welcome the vision, but even more, we anticipate the action. Until then we’ll continue to provide our services to people impacted by cancer, for free, so that anyone impacted by cancer has the opportunity to live a meaningful and fulfilled life with and beyond the disease.

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