The NHS is recruiting a growing army of social prescribing link workers to combat loneliness and isolation fuelled by coronavirus.
One in five people who visit a GP surgery do not have a medical problem but can benefit from meeting others or a healthier lifestyle.
Social prescribing link workers, introduced to the NHS last year, spend time with patients to understand the reasons for them seeking help. And support them to get involved with activities such as sports teams, cooking classes or social clubs, or taking up life skill courses to improve their wellbeing.
Now, with the coronavirus pandemic compounding loneliness, isolation and mental health problems for many people, the NHS is providing extra funding to groups of GPs so that more than 400,000 people a year can benefit from the additional support that link workers can provide to local communities.
The NHS is fast-tracking recruitment of an additional 500, who will work with family doctors and the growing number of clinical staff working in primary care to provide personalised support to 125,000 more people per year.
Nikki Kanani, London GP and NHS medical director for primary care, said: ‘Link workers have been front and centre of the NHS’ response to COVID-19, helping some of our most vulnerable people with everything from accessing vital medicine to relieving loneliness during the lockdown.
‘And as the NHS continues to support Covid patients while offering its usual world class care, link workers will remain vital, helping to improve people’s quality of life and emotional wellbeing and keeping them healthy.’
With lockdown stopping most social activities, many social prescribers have had to adapt their approach, working closely with local groups and volunteers to coordinate support for vulnerable patients, such as check-in and chats, food parcels and medicine deliveries.
James Sanderson, director of NHS Personalised Care said: ‘There is no one size fits all approach to a person’s health which is why the NHS will support 2.5 million people with long term conditions by 2024 to be actively involved in their own care and improve their long-term wellbeing.
‘By putting people in contact with services and activities that matter to them, from cooking classes to walking football, they will not only be able to develop new skills, but will also be able to improve their health and wellbeing.’
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