Should I call the Doctor, or a friend?

Winner: National award for improving health and wellbeing

Posted on: 28 November 2017

We know what the word ‘social’ means.  We think we know what ‘prescribing’ means.  But do we know what ‘Social Prescribing’ is?

Here’s a quick run through of what it is, and why all of us should care.


The context

It’s based around the fact, and it is a fact, that thousands of people each year visit their GP about socially based, rather than medical problems. About 40 percent social, 60 percent medical.

Socially based problems are very real and important to the person because they may be impeding their quality of life and personal wellbeing. That’s true, and mustn’t be underestimated.

But they’re not medical problems requiring medical solutions.

They’re problems and barriers preventing them from living as full and worthwhile lives as possible. And the solutions are often found in their own communities, in local groups and local services.

So what does social prescribing do?

In Exeter, GP practices have been referring patients that they believe would benefit from increased social activity to a trusted ‘Community Connector’. They work with the patient to identify what the root of their problem is, understand what matters to them, and plan a way forward together, more often introducing the person to activities and organisations in their own neighbourhoods. That’s social prescribing.


..and we’re pretty good at it

Devon’s ahead of the curve on social prescribing. We’ve just won a national and prestigious award for a project in Exeter, called Integrated Care Exeter, (ICE), which is all about social prescribing.

There’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes, by the partner organisations and others, to encourage and help communities to develop their…community’ness.

A resilient community is one in which its residents, businesses, charities, community groups, schools, churches, post offices – any number of the elements that make up a community – work together in a public-minded, mutually supportive way.

In that respect, social prescribing’s not a new concept at all. It harks back to a day when people relied on the doctor solely for medical complaints, and they had the support of friends, family, neighbours, their community, to call on for other things.

How social prescribing is helping

One person who has benefited from the ICE programme, said: “I came in for pain killers and I am leaving with hope!”

Another said: “The help and support I have received over the last few months has exceed my expectations. As a result of this I now feel much less isolated that I as feeling when I was referred.”

Anette, one of the Community Connectors in Exeter, said:

“I meet clients daily and it’s wonderful to be able to help people on their various journeys. This can be anything from breaking social isolation to help with job opportunities, or supporting the clients to get registered for council housing. Other common areas clients want support with is alcohol abuse and healthy lifestyle advice.”

Dr Phil Norrey, Devon County Council’s Chief Executive, and former Chairman of the ICE Board, said:

“This has always been a forward-looking project, which puts people’s independence, health and wellbeing at its core.

“It shows what can be achieved when health and social care, voluntary sector organisations, community groups and individuals, who all have a part to play in helping people live well, work together.

“If anything demonstrates that ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’, it’s the ICE project, and I’m delighted that it has been awarded this national accolade.”

19 comments on “Should I call the Doctor, or a friend?

  1. Liz Wood says:

    I think the first port of call should always be the GP, to make sure ithere’s no underlying physical cause,. If there is no physical or mental illness, or when medical treatment is in hand, the GP could refer the patient to the Community Connector, who I hope will be able to refer the patient to a professional of some other kind, if need be.
    This could be a good idea, as long as the patient always starts with a medical doctor and as long as it’s not just an underhand way of removing what should be state responsibity, borne by fully qualified and trained professionals, and putting it in the hands of unpaid, or poorly paid, amateurs, who, however well meaning, could sometimes do more harm than good. This project must be in addition to professional care, not a cheap replacement for it.

    • Hi Liz. Thanks for your comments. Rest assured, it’s not a way of removing what should be state responsibility, and it’s not a replacement. Access is via their GPs, so – and you’re right – that first port of call is with the Doctor. Thanks.

  2. Robert Wootton FRSA says:

    If people were required to be a member of their local Residents’ Association and a member of a local community group of their own choice in order to claim a personal tax allowance or a welfare/social security benefit, perhaps then Social Prescribing would not be so necessary. However, this alternative system does not exist. So carry on with the good work.

  3. phil m says:

    This is something in this torn up NHS Services we can truly be proud of many of our Devon GP’s, I am ever grateful to my GP, Dr Jim Wood at Claire House here in Tiverton for his way of always looking at new ideas and plans to assist me in many areas of my health and mental + general well being.
    When much of the NHS is being ripped apart it is very reassuring that even while the Dr’s are also suffering through unjust treatment in thier professions which they truly care about , they are still able to remain committed and true to thier patients and often go the extra mile with individuals. Thanks Devon and thanks to all the committed GP’s out there.
    Phil M in Tiverton

  4. Steve Rogers says:

    Well done, thank you!

  5. CP says:

    Lets have our medical services getting on with dealing with medical problems and get good support for all the other issues.

  6. Barbara says:

    I would prefer to see a doctor when I am ill…hang on there are no appointments for a couple of weeks.

  7. David Griffin says:

    This is all well and good. But there will be a time when calling a friend instead of a doctor will result in an underlying problem that can only be detected by a medical professional being left untreated. I went to my doctor because I felt a bit short of breath climbing the stairs. Under the ICE programme I may have been referred to a physio group or an exercise group. Thankfully, my doctor sent me for an x-ray which showed a pleural effusion that I knew nothing about, and which was a symptom of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. The lung was drained and then I received 2.5 years of chemotherapy. My own consultant believes the ICE idea will cost lives eventually and the real reason it has been introduced is to save money so that private hospitals and practices will replace the NHS. I would be happier if DCC was at least honest about the rationale of ICE..

    • Hi Mr Griffin. Thanks for your thoughts about it, and sorry to hear about your situation. The thing is, what we’re talking about isn’t a replacement to the health service. You’re right…people with medical problems need medical solutions – that’s a given – and that doesn’t change. No, this approach is about supporting people who come to see their Doctor about things that aren’t medical issues, (all be they impacting on their quality of life), but for which there are other services out there that they’d potentially benefit from. It’s not pretending to be an alternative to good healthcare. Hope that helps.

  8. SylvM says:

    Excellent idea that should be picked up round the country. I live mostly in an area with high retirement rates. A local project recently demonstrated how many activities there are for the 50+ , but how few of them are known. Word of mouth is the most common method of finding out and so much could be done to improve.

  9. Jenny Henriques says:

    This is great news and it sounds like a remarkably helpful project.
    How do people access this if they are too isolated to manage to get to their doctor without enormous effort and anxiety, and don’t use email?

    • Hi Jenny. Thanks for this. I’ll find out and will post back the answer.

    • Hi Jenny. Many thanks for your thoughts. The original concept was about connecting with people who visit their GP surgeries and GPs are able to refer people who they believe would benefit from more engagement with their local community. So, people can self-refer, but currently this does have to be via their surgery. In the future we do plan to increase the number of ways that people can request to be involved, so please keep an eye out! Thanks.

  10. Elinor d'Albiac says:

    Well done. This sounds as though it should be rolled out at least across the County if not further.
    There are plenty of people in rural areas who would benefit from this too, and it’s surprising how much goes on in and around small towns and villages that could be tapped into if only there were the people to get it started!

    • David Griffin says:

      Your comment sounds a bit ‘in house’. It is everything they want to hear.
      ICE will end up costing lives. The reason for its introduction is to pave the way for private medicine and the abolition of the NHS, which is happening right under our noses by implementing schemes like this.

    • Hi Mr Griffin. It’s not about private medicine, and it’s not about getting rid of Doctors and the NHS. It’s about the NHS and other partners in the statutory and voluntary sector, and communities themselves, working together to help improve people’s health and wellbeing. Thanks.

  11. Susie Hall says:

    Well done Devon County Council.
    Proactive – No Nonsense – Common Sense – Effective – Kind

    • David Griffin says:

      I have found Devon County Council to be unhelpful and seriously lacking common sense on the occasions I have approached them. The ICE plan will cost many lives as conditions that are not immediately apparent are left untreated.

    • Hi again Mr Griffin. Sorry to hear that too. As I say, it’s not an alternative to healthcare, it’s a complement to it, and people with medical concerns will continue to receive medical attention. Many thanks.

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