NHS in Leeds invests over £4.5 million to support GP practices with link workers

Art therapy shows benefit of non-medical support towards health and wellbeing

Over £4.5 million is being invested in a three year contract by NHS Leeds Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) to combat anxiety, loneliness and depression.

People in Leeds will benefit from 36 link workers working with GP practices in the city helping patients live fitter, healthier lives as part of the funding into social prescribing. Social prescribing helps support people who see their GP about issues which are not directly related to medical conditions.

The announcement by the CCG links in with the ambitions set out in the NHS Long Term Plan published by NHS England earlier this year. According to NHS England around half of GP appointments are not directly related to medical conditions, according to experts.

Growing evidence shows that referrals to community services such as exercise or art classes, history groups and even ballroom dancing can boost health and wellbeing more than dishing out pills or other treatments.

The announcement made by CCG will see a single citywide service operating in Leeds, ran by a group of community and voluntary organisations led by Community Links. This single service replaces the previous model of three schemes running in the city.

Tim Ryley, Chief Executive for NHS Leeds CCG, said: “We’re committed to making the NHS Long Term Plan a reality for people in Leeds. Our decision to invest and build upon the success of social prescribing in Leeds links closely with the aims outlined in the NHS Long Term Plan which will see 1,000 link workers recruited across the country. Evidence shows that a significant number of GP appointments could be avoided if people had access to more relevant non-medical support. Social prescribing helps people access more appropriate services while freeing up GP time so they can help people with complex health conditions.”

Ruth Kettle, Chief Executive for Inspire North (the parent company of Community Links and Foundation) added: “We are absolutely delighted to be leading this new citywide service made up of some great community organisations who have all been delivering social prescribing in Leeds for some years.

“Between us we have the wealth of experience and community connections required to really make a difference to the people of Leeds. The evidence to date shows how effective our services have been in improving health and wellbeing for our clients and we will take all this learning and best practice to make the service even better going forward, involving our clients every step of the way.

“We have yet to choose a name so we will be looking for opportunities to involve people in this and in signing off the publicity about the service.”

An example of how one of the previous social prescribing schemes has benefitted local people can be found at Foundry Lane Surgery in Seacroft.

The practice, through its social prescribing link worker, refers patients to an art therapy course to help people who are experiencing a range of emotions including anger, low mood, depression or anxiety. The eight week course helps people who can find it difficult to establish links within their community, helping them build their confidence and self-esteem.

Narinder Panesar, wellbeing co-ordinator who has signposted people to The Art Room that is an art therapy course running at LS14 Trust, said: “The emotional needs of participants are unique to each person. What is common however is the positive effect people have reported once they have completed the sessions. A remarkable effect of the groups is the self-awareness that they obtain around emotions particularly anger, the participants choose to deal with volatile situations differently, for example, walking away, breathing, and meditating. In one to one meetings they will report their new found pleasure at managing to deal with situations differently. and look after themselves mentally and emotionally. It’s refreshing to see that healthcare professionals can see the benefits of art therapy for patients where more traditional medical treatments may not have the same impact.”

Karen, who attended the art therapy sessions after losing her husband of 27 years, says: “I had lost my sparkle, losing my partner after 27 years together. He wasn’t just my husband, I was his carer too and he died of a rare form of cancer. It was too quiet in the house after he died so it was brilliant that I met and could relate to others in the group. I found out I wasn’t on my own with what I was going through. Without Narinder I would be stuck. I have a reading age of 8 and so to have help reading has got me out of being so depressed. We’ve all kept in touch afterwards and it’s really helped my self confidence has really gone up. I never thought art therapy would work for me but has it has been a great help.”

Dr Bruno Rushforth at Foundry Lane Surgery, commented “Narinder (the wellbeing co-ordinator) has been able to engage with these hard to reach patient groups with dignity and respect, and her ability to work with them in a non-judgmental way has given our patients support that they really needed. We’ve had patients reporting back how positive the whole experience has been.”

The new service will officially begin on 1 September 2019 with the three current schemes – Connect Well (covering north Leeds) Connect for Health (covering south and east Leeds) and the Patient Empowerment Project (covering west Leeds) – continuing until then.

More information on the current Leeds schemes can be found on the Mindwell website: www.mindwell-leeds.org.uk/myself/right-service-or-support/what-is-a-social-prescribing-service