In January, the UK government’s Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, published Universal Personalised Care, the latest part of the government’s NHS Long Term Plan.
The aim is to ramp up social prescribing to reduce pressure on doctors from people who visit for reasons that do not require medical interventions or which are preventable.
An ‘army of advisers’ will be recruited to help patients live fitter, healthier lives and combat preventable disease, anxiety, loneliness and depression: it’s thought that up to 900,000 appointments a year could be handled by non-medical specialists, with a range of interventions being prescribed.
Around half of GP appointments are not directly related to medical conditions and growing evidence shows referrals to community services such as ‘exercise or art classes, history groups and even ballroom dancing’ can improve health and wellbeing more effectively than drugs and medical treatments.
The UK’s NHS England says it will recruit 1,000 social prescribing ‘link workers’ who will give people time to ‘talk about what matters to them and support them to find suitable activities that are a better alternative to medication’ as part of a change in the provision of ‘personalised care’.
In welcoming the strategy, Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “Often the underlying reasons patients visit their GPs are not medical, yet they can have a considerable impact on their health and wellbeing.
“Ensuring doctors have good, easy access to people who can link patients with classes or groups in the community and other non-NHS services, that could be of far more benefit than medicine, is something the College has long called for.”
In an open letter (page 54), Sir Muir Gray calls on Matt Hancock to involve the fitness industry in this initiative, saying: “Universal Personalised Care proposes the appointment of 1,000 link workers to deliver support. We would like to ensure that they will all be linked closely with professionals and facilities in the health and fitness industry because it is clear that activity is not only preventive, but also therapeutic for people who have already developed disease. It also has the potential to prevent or delay the onset of disability, frailty and dementia and support those with mental health problems.
“The fitness industry has many thousands of trained professionals, committed to providing personalised activity, advice and support,” he concludes.
New research – Physical activity of UK Adults with Chronic Disease – published in the International Journal of Epidemiology gives timely reinforcement to Sir Muir’s call to action.
Researchers found clear evidence of a direct association between physical inactivity and chronic disease and urged policymakers to be “aware of the extent to which lower levels of activity are associated with chronic disease and pay more attention to providing advice and programmes to address the problem.”