News

Essex tests whether social prescribing creates better connected communities

  • Date

    Wed 25 Sep 19

Elderly woman

An Essex academic is to evaluate the impact of social prescribing in creating communities that are more connected, as part of a new European funded project spanning England and France.

Social prescribing is when a heath professional refers a patient to non-clinical, practical and emotional support within their own community, and according to NHS England there is emerging evidence that it leads to a range of positive health and wellbeing outcomes for its recipients.

Existing evidence also suggests that communities in which people are more connected enjoy higher economic activity, less crime, a decrease in the need for government benefits and reductions in health care costs.

The new four-year project, Connected Communities, has received €6.7 million from the Interreg France Channel England (FCE) programme and seeks to address the societal challenge of a growing ageing population.

The partners on the project include four English councils; Suffolk County Council, East Suffolk District Council, Kent County Council, and Medway Borough Council, together with the Counsiel departments of La Manche, Seine Maritime, L’Oise, and L’Eure  in France.

Dr Gina Yannitell Reinhardt, from our Department of Government, is the only academic on the team and has received €650,000 to conduct her evaluation.

Speaking of the project, Dr Reinhardt said: “It is estimated that community disconnectedness has an annual cost of £32 billion in the UK and €39.4 billion in France - in health care costs, lost productivity, and increased demand on social and public services.

“The social prescribing we are trialling will go further than traditional schemes, to include things like dance classes and reaching out to isolated individuals via coffee caravans. Our project is also unique in the range of services that will be brought together; from health organisations and voluntary groups to government and the police.

“We will test whether people’s lives really do change as a result of interacting with social prescribers and whether communities are better connected as a result.

“The team anticipates working directly with 2,200 individuals, targeting the elderly and isolated individuals.

“Evidence already suggests that community connectedness offers see real, tangible benefits because people within the community are getting to know each other and are helping each other out.

“If we can prove that social prescribing is a way to achieving this connectivity we would demonstrate that it’s an approach that could be rolled out more widely.”

The Interreg FCE programme has a number of aims, including the development of approaches to improve the wellbeing of ageing populations affected by rural and/or social isolation and deprivation, via cross-border co-operation and collaboration.

The project is due to run for four years.