16 February 2016
Prescribing yoga, arts and Xbox fitness classes on the NHS can cut A & E visits by a sixth, according to an analysis of one of the largest such schemes.
Lonely older patients are much happier of GPs send them to knitting, woodwork or local history groups and the NHS could save money because they need less treatment, the study suggests.
Family doctors say they have replaced priests as the first port of call for people with social or financial problems, and non-medical help will free up appointments. Loneliness exacerbates health problems of the elderly.
In one of the longest running programmes, health chiefs in Rotherham have spent £500,000 a year since 2012 on community groups and advisers to help vulnerable patients to joint them.
Tai chi, quizzes, indoor curling and other exercises are among the groups offered to lonely older people, while those with financial problems are given debt and welfare advice and those with depression are steered towards music or creative writing classes. The NHS pays for 10 or 20 weeks of classes.
An evaluation of the scheme by Sheffield Hallam University suggests that patients taking part reduced their attendances at A & E by 17 per cent and hospital stays by 11 per cent. This saved the NHS 43p for each £1 it spent initially, while 82 per cent of patients felt happier, better connected or less worried.
Maureen Baker, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said: "Social prescribing schemes can contribute to a patient's overall health and well-being and this report shows that it can lead to a number of positive outcomes".
Article by Chris Smyth, published in The Times, Monday 15 February 2016, p.4