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by Margaret Taylor
25 October 2022
Charities call for use of social prescribing to address health inequalities

Social prescribing includes things like referring patients to walking groups

Charities call for use of social prescribing to address health inequalities

A coalition of 19 health charities has called on the Scottish Government to urgently adopt the use of social prescribing to address growing health inequalities.

Last month, a report from the parliament’s Health, Social Care and Sport Committee noted that “actions to date to reduce health inequalities have largely failed, with health inequalities widening instead of narrowing”.

Yesterday, a report from charity The Health Foundation, which collaborated with organisations including the University of Glasgow and Fraser of Allander Institute, found that children living in the most deprived areas of Scotland are twice as likely to experience poor health as those in the least deprived.

Movement for Health, which is made up of charities including SAMH, Chest Heart and Stroke Scotland, Age Scotland and Paths for All, is urging the government to adopt a national approach to social prescribing, which would include actions such as referring patients to walking groups, to help address the situation.

“The double-whammy of the pandemic followed by the cost-of-living crisis means that poor areas of Scotland are now on the whole markedly more unhealthy than affluent areas,” said Dr Emma Lunan, chair of Movement for Health.

“Currently there is no overarching strategy to tackle health inequalities in Scotland. That needs to change and we agree with the committee’s recommendations to develop a strategy or set of principles to guide policy making to ensure all levels of government are contributing positively.

“A bigger investment has to be put on social prescribing. The undervalued process can improve outcomes for people by giving them choice and control over their lives and can even improve their sense of belonging when getting involved in community groups.

“Proactive steps are required to ensure that future design and delivery of public services properly recognise and address these needs – especially of those experiencing extreme disadvantage.

“Social prescribing has been recognised as a vital tool required post-pandemic to improve the mental and physical health of the country. Investing in the process means we can cater and understanding that different areas of Scotland have different needs and require different levels of support.”

The charities that form part of Movement for Health all advocate for the benefits of physical activity for people who have long-term health conditions.

The 19 charities involved are Age Scotland, Alliance, Alzheimer Scotland, Breast Cancer Now, Asthma and Lung UK, Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland, Diabetes UK, Macmillan Cancer Support, MS Society, Parkinson’s Scotland, Paths for All, RNIB, SAMH, Scotland Versus Arthritis, Stroke Association, VHS, Waverly Care, Scottish Disability Sport and Community Leisure Scotland.

The aim of the coalition is to raise awareness of the benefits of physical activity within health practitioners, sport providers, policy makers and the general public, by providing research, resources and political action to support those who are affected to get more active.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said that "addressing health inequalities and increasing healthy life expectancy are a priority".

“We recognise that non-clinical options are an important part of a person-centred approach to care and more can be done to ensure that healthcare professionals feel confident to take these options, where they feel it is appropriate," they added.

“Programme for Government committed that every GP Practice will have access to a mental health and wellbeing service by 2026, with funding for 1,000 additional dedicated staff who can help grow community mental health resilience and direct social prescribing, with funding for the national implementation of these Mental Health in Primary Care Services coming this year.

“We are also embedding welfare rights advisers in 150 GP practices across Scotland, in our most deprived communities, who offer advice to patients on increasing income, social security eligibility, debt resolution, housing and employability issues.”

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