I quite like the concept of social prescription.

I was lucky enough to attend the College of Medicine Summer School at UEA earlier in September. I had never been to a conference before that lasted longer than a day (and I got to stay in student accommodation so I was feeling circa 2006!) so was unsure of what to expect. I was also dubious – would I be one of the only student nurses? Would people mix? Would it be relevant to me?

I was pleasantly surprised. I thoroughly enjoyed every single lecture and key note speaker who presented there. The theme of the summer school was healthy communities and much of the conference was centred around the concept of social prescription. Social prescription is a term that I had never heard of before the conference but an ideology which I am definitely going to research into. In a nutshell, social prescription is the linking of people up to activities in the community that they might benefit from and connecting people to non-medical sources of support.

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Particular highlights were from Dr James Fleming who spoke about the concept of salutogenesis and his social enterprise model Green Dreams Project based in Lancashire (more of which you can read about here). To me, James came across as a really genuine and warm person and his passion to help people outside of the prescribed health world was truly inspiring. Paraphrased: “Does an antidepressant make someone’s house nicer?” “Does a sick note make it easier to return to work?”. It was really refreshing to hear someone think outside the box. Dan Hopewell, director of knowledge and innovation at the Bromley by Bow centre also emphasised the need for social prescription. He expressed the importance of the Marmot report as a must-read for all healthcare students and illustrated this by presenting a Bromley by Bow diabetes prevalence map of today compared to a poverty map by Charles Booth in 1889 – shockingly the same but demonstrating perfectly the very important issue of health equity. We also had Dame Donna Kinnair speak about the importance of having a political voice as a healthcare professional and having expert patients voicing their experiences of care and how we can change; James Wood, superintendent pharmacist, who spoke about effective medicines management and putting the patient central to this to improve quality of life; Anna Minton, journalist, who spoke about cities and public spaces and how constant CCTV and extra precautionary measures to prevent crime and anti-social behaviour actually exacerbates it; and finally Dr Michael Dixon, chair of the College of Medicine, who spoke about his own embodiment of social prescription at his practice, thanking us for attending and inspiring the us to go forth and keep working hard! A lot of very interesting subjects which were varied.

The next day of the conference we had expert patients come in to speak about their experiences of services and how they have helped improve them, including one from a man who suffered for many years with undiagnosed mental illness. It was quite humbling to hear this man’s story and I admired his courage to talk about his life with brutal honesty. City Reach, a healthcare provider for people who find it difficult to access GP services, also attended with patient experts. People who may find it hard to access services might be those that are homeless, at risk of homelessness, asylum seekers, refugees, sex workers, Gypsies and Travellers or anyone else for any other reason. A simple but effective phrase which was used was “hard to reach or easy to exclude” which I felt was very thought provoking. It is easy to forget about these groups of people when you are not directly involved with them but we should still be giving choices and support to them as much as possible. This was also interesting because it identified where I lacked knowledge. I felt that I had some knowledge of mental health because of previous work I had been in, but to be honest I had no idea how difficult services are to access especially in a rural area. Homelessness was also touched upon, again, another area which I did not know much about. I have since shadowed a homeless team and researched more about mental health and well-being but still feel I would probably benefit from more exposure to this in my training perhaps.

What was refreshing were the people who attended the conference. They were all like-minded students of healthcare or similar and were all fantastic. It was nice to have “inter-professional learning” but not in such a forced manner in which it happens at uni. It was great to hear how our experiences differed but were similar in various ways despite training towards different professions; we still had the same goal which was to improve patient experience and quality of life.

From the perspective of a student nurse, I really liked the social prescription model. I couldn’t help but think it was a slightly extended version of medical model vs social model of disability however it is leaps and bounds into the right direction. Even though it was from a medicine, general practitioner perspective it inspired me to think about social enterprise. From working with children and young adults with disabilities for years and being exposed to the difficulties families faced, I used to have lots of ideas about services that could be implemented and this conference made them seem like less silly, idealistic ideas and more “let’s do this”. Maybe one day. Who’s with me?

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This blog is a really simple and short overview of the conference. If any of these areas of care interest you then you can read the presentations from the speakers here.

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