GPs endorse radical new treatment for chronic health problems

Australia should use social prescribing to counter rising chronic health problems.

A new remedy for health problems

Australia should use social prescribing to counter rising chronic health problems, according to a new report from the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) and the Consumers Health Forum (CHF).

Social prescribing involves the referral of patients to non-medical activities, ranging from health and fitness programs to movie clubs and meditation.

The Social Prescribing report, launched on Tuesday, recommends that social prescribing be incorporated into routine healthcare in Australia.

Surveys commissioned for the initiative indicate that while many patients in Australia would welcome such approaches, they are often not available.

Of the 200-plus consumers surveyed, 88 per cent agreed or strongly agreed that community programs and services could help their health and wellbeing. But 57 per cent said their GP never discussed using such services to improve their health.

In a survey of around 140 GPs, 70 per cent said they believed referring patients to community activities, groups or services improved health outcomes, yet most said they did not have links with such services.

RACGP president Dr Harry Nespolon said that GPs had a central role to play in social prescribing.

“At the frontline of healthcare, GPs are best placed to employ social prescribing to help improve their patients’ health and wellbeing,” Dr Nespolon said.

“We’ve seen this approach used successfully internationally, such as in the United Kingdom and promising trials in Canada and Singapore – it could help shift the balance to focus on prevention and early intervention for patients.

“With the huge challenges we face regarding rising chronic illness, mental health issues, isolation and loneliness and the resulting costs, we urgently need to consider our approach to healthcare in Australia – social prescribing offers an innovative solution. 

Dr Nespolon said that while some GPs already employ social prescribing in Australia and trials are underway by organisations such as IPC Health in Melbourne and Inala Primary Care in Brisbane, more resourcing and recognition is needed to implement it in a sustainable way.

“Social prescribing offers a huge opportunity to improve patient health and wellbeing and cut the costs of chronic disease, but it won’t happen unless everyone can access it.”

CHF chief executive Leanne Wells said: “This is a vital development for patients. It provides a plan to develop more effective care.

“Social prescribing can help to address the social determinants of health, such as low education and income, which can affect people’s health and wellbeing. It has become particularly important given rising rates of chronic illness, mental health issues, social isolation and loneliness, many of which cannot be treated effectively with a medical approach alone.

“Health expenditure also shows that healthcare has increasingly shifted to expensive hospital settings. As our population ages and we see rising rates of obesity and chronic disease, the demand for such acute services will only increase if we continue on this same trajectory.

“We need to find more effective ways to keep people out of hospital in order for our health system to remain stable.”

Patients who participated in a social prescribing pilot in Melbourne found it helped significantly with their conditions and reduced their reliance on medications.

Brenda Hoy, who has lived with depression for 30 years, described her experience with social prescribing as “life changing”.

Ms Hoy, 70, said the support she received to pursue her love of writing helped her to significantly reduce her reliance on medication and psychological counselling.

Another participant, Helen Longhurst, who has lived with the constant pain of fibromyalgia for 10 years, said she had “not looked back” since she took the opportunity to access social prescribing and was advised to join a chronic pain support group.

Through the program, Ms Longhurst, 58, was guided to find an alternative approach to manage her condition. “I hope social prescribing will become much better known. It’s definitely a good thing,” she said.

The report includes a number of recommendations for the broader adoption of social prescribing, including:

  • to incorporate social prescribing into the Commonwealth’s 10-Year Primary Health Care Plan, with recognition of the need for funding and implementation support to ensure a more comprehensive patient-focused health system
  • support for ‘link workers’ to help connect patients to community services, identifying where skills already exist and developing training and qualifications where needed
  • governments to work with local councils and leading organisations to identify community services and groups that could contribute to a social prescribing scheme
  • primary health networks (PHNs) to expand health pathways to include a social prescribing pathway for patients.

Would you welcome your GP being able to prescribe social activities to help prevent you from developing chronic health conditions?

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COMMENTS

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Ted Wards
12th Feb 2020
11:28am
Yet the Government has just slashed the pathway to wellness program which tackles social isolation and wellness. Makes no sense. The government either support it or not, and not seems to be the way. Yet they also then turn around and fund further research to the tune of millions....no sense whatsoever.
BrianP
12th Feb 2020
12:08pm
yes this is the best way to proceed and help more people.

So many times GP's now pass the buck by referring patients to expensive specialists. GPs need to be able to offer healing pathways to all aspects of a patient's life not just medical.
Rae
13th Feb 2020
7:58am
Yes I agee. Also finding specialists with books open now in regions is difficult. I believe the MAM has taken it's eye off the ball here. Our region of over 300 000 has no dermatologist available from my experience. New arrivals find getting a GP even hard. There are new GPs but they don't have the contacts to get patients onto specialist's books. It's a real failure to plan for population growth in my opinion.
sah1302
12th Feb 2020
12:28pm
"Social prescibing?". New words for basic good advice and old fashioned "referral pathways". This is nothing new other than we're referring people to groups/services that may cost them money they can ill afford. This isn't radical...
'Chelle03
12th Feb 2020
1:44pm
HALLELUJAH!!!! Finally they have realised that being proactive regarding the population's health instead of reactive to illness and disease might work.
For it to be successful, however the Govt needs to initiate programs that are not cost prohibitive. Perhaps some of the millions of dollars of profit from the tax paid by private health and pharmaceutical companies could be channelled into this initiative?
nameste
12th Feb 2020
2:32pm
Yep, as a yoga teacher I often get patients referred by their GP to do yoga to assist with health and well being long term, so why have yoga and other very helpful lifestyle practices been deleted recently from from Health insurance rebates? A backwards step!
KB
12th Feb 2020
3:10pm
This scheme probably would help people however it sis no not for all people.
KB
12th Feb 2020
3:10pm
This scheme probably would help people however it sis no not for all people.
Robyn
12th Feb 2020
4:14pm
Doesn't this discourage people from using their own initiative? It's not hard to find out about local social, learning or exercise groups - try your local paper for a start.
eckac
13th Feb 2020
12:44am
A great community NFP completely volunteer run organisation spread throughout Australia is the U3A. A non-political, non-religious organisation for all retired and part retired people, it is dedicated to continuing learning at minimal cost to members. It provides a wide range of subjects as well as social and gentle exercise activities which makes it a perfect vehicle for building a social network, particularly for those who retire to a new location.
Cat
13th Feb 2020
9:49am
Good luck you'll need it. I can't even get a doctor to cooperate with referral to medical and other broader social inclusion and assistance services for proper management of a chronic disability. They either brush me off, get annoyed and sometimes downright abusive because it might require filling out a form or something that requires the tiny bit more involvement that writing a script. Because of this behaviour of doctors I have been locked out of any way of properly managing my physical impairment and locked out of any form of participation in anything for the past 25 years since I had the disability, like employment and the improvement in my quality of life that those things could have brought. No matter how many doctors I go to it's the same. If not annoyed or abusive they are ignorant so it's a no go. It doesn't matter who I go to or try a different Dr it's always the same - they couldn't be bothered, and they have no shame about it. I had to stop going to doctors altogether because of the psychological damage they were causing me with their negative behavior. Even any medical referral that was made was always faulty - wrong kind of specialist, don't deal with my kind of problem, retired years ago, and they won't correct it and make a valid referral.
Teacher
13th Feb 2020
9:43pm
Here's one social tap dancing group for mature ladies (ages ranging from 47 to 88) that is working miracles with social health wellness. We are called Just Dance Illawarra (check out our website) and perform in nursing homes, retirement villages and conduct concerts for various charities like cancer care, leukaemia and Parkinson's disease. We are well-known for the glittering costumes we make and have even ventured into a little bit of hip hop. We also travel interstate to places like Wellington, Yeoval, and Gulgong raising funds for charities and are looking forward to a visit to Gloucester this year. Yes, we have our health issues such as recovery after broken limbs, sore legs and knees and backs, maybe a bit of vertigo too; (even one bipolar sufferer had her doctor tell her that the tap dancing was improving her health and to keep doing it); but that doesn't stop us. Classes are not expensive and despite the tiredness after a workout tap dancing to all classes of music the feeling of exhilaration is worth it.
Teacher
13th Feb 2020
9:43pm
Here's one social tap dancing group for mature ladies (ages ranging from 47 to 88) that is working miracles with social health wellness. We are called Just Dance Illawarra (check out our website) and perform in nursing homes, retirement villages and conduct concerts for various charities like cancer care, leukaemia and Parkinson's disease. We are well-known for the glittering costumes we make and have even ventured into a little bit of hip hop. We also travel interstate to places like Wellington, Yeoval, and Gulgong raising funds for charities and are looking forward to a visit to Gloucester this year. Yes, we have our health issues such as recovery after broken limbs, sore legs and knees and backs, maybe a bit of vertigo too; (even one bipolar sufferer had her doctor tell her that the tap dancing was improving her health and to keep doing it); but that doesn't stop us. Classes are not expensive and despite the tiredness after a workout tap dancing to all classes of music the feeling of exhilaration is worth it.
greygeek
14th Feb 2020
2:28am
Volunteering is a great way to help not only yourself, but others too! I have been volunteering since 1973 in lots of different areas, in my current position for 27 years. I am happy when I can be of assistance to another person!
Eliza
18th Feb 2020
9:45am
Join U3A ... looks them up ...
all kinds of physical activities together with crafts, mental stimulation and more ... they have groups everywhere...


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