Penny Brohn UK

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Social prescribing is coming of age – how does it relate to what we do?

research and evaluation lead

Dr Helen Seers, Research and Evaluation Lead, tells us about attending the Social Prescribing Network’s first research conference, held in Manchester in June.

First of all what is social prescribing?

In a nutshell it is health care professionals on the front line, such as doctors and nurses, referring people to local, non-clinical services. Services such as creative arts and activities, gardening, cookery, physical activity, mindfulness and so on. It is thought to be most helpful to people with long term health problems, vulnerable or socially-isolated groups or those who are frequent health care service users. At Penny Brohn UK, we work with people living with and beyond cancer and many of the options on the social prescribing menu have been offered here for nearly 40 years.

A gathering of minds

At the heart of the social prescribing movement is a network of health care professionals, members of the voluntary sector, commissioners, funders, academics and crucially social prescribers and service users. The network aims to share knowledge and best practice, to support social prescribing at local and national levels and to inform good quality research and evaluation.

The first international social prescribing network research conference
Dr Helen Seers attended the first of this kind of conference

The Social Prescribing Network’s conference is a gathering of the academic and wider community with the aim of developing the existing evidence base and finding common themes and directions for the future. The conference showcased the latest in research methods in social prescribing – realist evaluation approaches, complexity theory and mixed methods for mapping the different areas of need – through a mixture of keynote speeches and selected sessions.

There were also very interesting presentations on social prescribing creative arts initiatives and how these can be evaluated. It was fantastic to see Debs Taylor from Creative Minds and Arts for Health Service who we first worked with on NHS England’s Realising the Value programme in 2016, where our work was showcased as best practice in self-management education, along with four other organisations.

Dr Marie Polley – Co-chair of the Social Prescribing UK Network welcoming delegates to the conference

Challenging discussions 

As social prescribing is gathering momentum and referrals increase, how will the uptake in service be met and funded? Fundamentally two worlds, the NHS/councils and the voluntary and community sector, just need to find a common language and also a sense of mutual confidence of finding a strong and correct approach to bridge the two sectors to let things flow – for the benefit of everyone. The wider debate about the joining up of the Health and Social Care System in the UK was touched upon, but this is an evolving situation, which will no doubt be discussed at the next event on 6 November 2018 at The King’s Fund. Our Service Director, Dr Marian Naidoo, has already booked her ticket.

What’s to come for social prescribing and Penny Brohn UK’s services

We have led the way in person-centred holistic care for people with cancer for nearly 40 years. We do offer a service that fits into the social prescribing category very well (Nordic walking, creative retreats, counselling services, etc.) and have valuable research and evaluation evidence into the benefits of these services for those living with cancer.

Furthermore, Penny Brohn UK also has a wealth of expertise in its staff who can engage in the Social Prescribing Network’s work and will drive this forward. Leading our programme of services, Dr Marian Naidoo, has a long track record of senior roles in the Department of Health and has been instrumental in many key initiatives aligned to Social Prescribing over the years. Marian is in the process of developing a participatory arts service at Penny Brohn UK and has previously led the field in arts and dementia care in the UK.

I hope that the new possible relationships that are created by the social prescribing network can flourish and Penny Brohn UK’s work can be strengthened further enabling even more people with cancer to benefit from our innovative approach.

Dr. Marie Polley is a long-standing research collaborator with Penny Brohn UK and has been connected to all our main service evaluation projects, and continues to link to all of our academic reports in the field of supportive cancer care and psycho-oncology. Recently she spoke on Radio 4 about social prescribing. You can listen to her compelling argument here.

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