How I put social prescribing at the forefront of community pharmacy

If you work as a community pharmacist, there is a good chance that you went to university with the ambition to make a difference in the lives of patients. But some pharmacists may find that they spend more time checking medications than focusing on patient well-being.

In the UK we tend to categorize patient conditions in ‘boxes’ and we do not always treat the patient with a holistic approach, as is often the case in Eastern cultures.

But that looks set to change, as we begin to take social prescribing – an approach to care that supports a person’s well-being, as well as their health – more seriously. Patients referred for a social prescription may have access to a range of non-clinical activities, such as dancing, gardening, sports or the arts.

In August 2020, the government awarded £ 5million to the National Academy for Social Prescription (NASP) for projects across the UK. The charity aims to support people ‘via prescription liaison social workers, to connect with the community and discover new opportunities, building on individual strengths and preferences, to improve health and The well-being “.

We already have the Healthy Living Pharmacy ethic in place in the community, and social prescribing is a natural fit: Community pharmacies are the perfect place to start social prescribing pilot projects. Through our existing footprint in our local community, we can identify patients who may benefit from a social prescription, such as those suffering from social isolation, financial debt, housing issues or malnutrition.

My own journey with social prescribing began in 2016 at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s annual conference, when I first discovered the ‘NHS five-year forward vision’, which would ‘bridge the health gap and well-being ”.

Suddenly I saw the connection between my love for dance (wellness) and my profession as a community pharmacist (health) – I was already a practitioner for Dance for Parkinson’s (a movement program that helps improve quality of life of the elderly).

I was so captivated by this idea that in 2018 I wrote a book about it: Pharmacy movement: how to prescribe social and digital medicines, which gave me the opportunity to give three opening speeches on the subject, being a fluent French speaker, in Paris.

But how do you get social prescribing to take place in UK pharmacies? Around the same time the NASP launched in 2019, I launched the Social Prescribe Pharmacy Association (SPPA). At the moment it’s a one-man army, but I hope more pharmacists will join me in making social prescribing a common practice across the UK.

To bring the SPPA to where it is today, I attended several social prescribing events where I was able to connect with very influential people in the social prescribing world. One of them is Marie Anne Essam, who helped create the NHS England Social Prescribing Course for Liaison Workers. Hoping that she would share my beliefs, I approached her with my plans to expand social prescribing, and she kindly helped me create a dedicated course for community pharmacy teams in the UK.

The Social Prescribing for Community Pharmacy Online Course, available on Udemy, is a quick introduction to authentic social prescribing and helps pharmacy teams get started, including how to approach your local surgery to start orienting social prescribing towards local liaison officers and meet with your local primary care network (PCN) clinical pharmacist to generate ideas. Social prescribing is not the sole responsibility of community pharmacy – working with your PCN, surgery, and liaison workers is so important.

As the community pharmacy moves from a “distribution space” to a “clinical center”, we learn that drugs are not the only solution to patient challenges. While advanced technologies such as precision medicines, augmented and virtual realities, and 3D printing may be part of our future in community pharmacy, we will always need a social connection to maintain our health and well- to be.

Consider getting involved in social prescribing and show your patients how much you really care for them.

Arun Nadarsa, founder of the Association of Social Prescribing Pharmacies. Learn more on Twitter: @UKSPPA

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