Doctors given new tool to help patients with social issues in Barking and Dagenham

Cllr Maureen Worby (second from the right) with GPs and link workers at the project launch in the Ba

Cllr Maureen Worby (second from the right) with GPs and link workers at the project launch in the Barking Learning Centre. The goal is to link-up services between the NHS and the council to get people the help they need with social issues. Picture: Luke Acton. - Credit: Archant

A multi-agency programme to get people the help they need has been officially launched for Barking and Dagenham.

An effort from the NHS and the council, the social prescription service is giving doctors more options to make sure patients get support. It's got £246,000 to run for the first year and is due to run for the next three.

A patient may go to a GP surgery to be treated for depression, but the source of that condition could be something like severe debt.

Social prescribing allows doctors to refer patients to things like debt management programmes to help them treat the cause of the problem.

More examples include services to solve issues around housing as well as relationships.

The programme is designed to get different organisations working in concert. By doing that, it hopes to get more people to the right treatment more quickly.

"We see so much more than an ill person," said Councillor Maureen Worby, the council's lead for social care and health integration.

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"We're no different than the rest of the country. It's a chasm between local authority services and health services. It's about something practical we can all do."

In the two weeks from when the programme started on December 2, more than 70 patients went through the service, according to the authority's community solutions director Mark Fowler. It was successfully trialled at two GP's surgeries this summer. It's now at all the practices in Barking and Dagenham.

"This is an opportunity for us to come together with some funding from GPs to make this a structured pathway to work better together," said Mr Fowler.

When fully staffed, there will be six full-time "link workers" connecting GPs and their patients with services. The workers will each cover patients from practices in a particular area. The idea is to be able to build relationships with doctors and streamline support.

The workers are council officers who are familiar with the help that's available from the authority, but also from charities working in the borough.

Mr Fowler added: "Collectively, we reach thousands of residents, reducing acute issues like social isolation, unemployment, health and wellbeing - making people's lives better as a result."