Social prescribing: choosing people over pills

A pioneering new way of tackling health problems in Northamptonshire is being rolled out - where social activities are prescribed instead of pills.

Northamptonshire is believed to be the first area in England to recruit the so-called "Social Prescribing Link Workers" across the county.

The idea behind the investment, which is costing £3.5 million pounds, is to train healthcare professionals to use non-medical interventions to help patients suffering from issues like loneliness and anxiety.

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The project is backed by patients and doctors.

Dr David Smart is a GP in Northampton. He says social prescribing is a good way to develop links between the community and healthcare professionals.

Dr David Smart, GP Credit: ITV Anglia
Relaxation class in Towcester Credit: ITV Anglia

At Towcester's Renew Cafe, people can time to relax at a class being led by a social prescribing link worker.

Doctors in the county will soon be able refer patients to projects like this to manage wellbeing without using conventional medicine.

Celia Stanworth suffered with loneliness after having her baby - she says the Renew cafe helped her feel calmer in the time following her child's birth.

Celia Stanworth Credit: ITV Anglia

Northamptonshire will soon become the first area in England to offer social prescribing across the county.

Experts say while the project will cost millions, it could reduce the financial burden on the NHS.

Ten steps to happier living Credit: ITV Anglia

A number of Happy Cafes have been set up in Northampton, offering people an opportunity to talk to people and engage with their local community - perhaps a sign that the town is embracing the idea of social prescribing.

The people behind the project say it fills a gap in the system after patients have come out of mental health crisis, when many can often find themselves alone and unsupported, and offers an alternative to conventional medication.

Northamptonshire could be used as a blueprint for the project if it's rolled out nationwide.

The aim is to reduce people's dependence on traditional health services, which are often overstretched, and get people to engage with their local community as a means to improve our wellbeing.