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Social prescribing for healthy ageing

The Northern Community Health & Research Foundation has launched a research project aiming to enable General Practitioners to better support their ageing patients at home.

The project focuses on improving options for ‘social prescribing’, where a GP or primary care professional refers their patient to local, non-clinical community wellbeing programs and support services.

More effective and efficient social prescribing can assist to reduce reliance on health services, improve health outcomes, and build the healthy ageing capacity of communities.

The project will focus on identification of barriers to, and facilitators of, social prescribing for older patients from identified vulnerable communities, with the aim of facilitating a scalable, sustainable approach to health and ageing ‘in place’. 

Currently, approximately 20% of patients consult their GP for concerns arising from social issues. Common underlying causes of ill health for older Australians include isolation and loneliness, which have been linked to depression, anxiety, poorer cardiovascular health, and exacerbated cognitive decline.

There is a clear need for easily accessed options beyond clinical and pharmacological responses, utilising improved holistic understanding of care and the ability to connect patients with community groups and services which can address these issues. 

The project will build on the work of an earlier successful pilot project on social prescribing undertaken with the support of the Councils of Port Adelaide Enfield, Walkerville and Prospect that was prematurely halted by COVID-19. It also augments an existing program currently managed by The Adelaide Primary Health Network (APHN) in the northern region of Adelaide. 

The initial APHN program is focused on areas with a higher population of older people between the ages 40-70 years who are living with multiple chronic conditions including frailty and dementia. NCHRF drew on the findings of this project in establishing a second research project undertaken by Dr Katherine Hodgett, which examined ageing and social isolation. This research was supported through the cooperation of the Councils of Port Adelaide Enfield, Prospect and Walkerville. 

The findings of these projects has determined the Foundation’s focus on healthy ageing as a critical area in which substantial improvements in services could significantly benefit the community and positively impact overall health outcomes in the northern communities. 

This additional project will build on the relationships and infrastructure that are already in place to develop and evaluate a model of social prescribing involving GP training, volunteer recruitment and development, collation of Council resources, and impact evaluation.

It will include the roll-out of evidence-based best practice training for staff working with GPs who can become designated ‘navigators’ assisting patients, and working with members of the Councils’ community development teams and volunteers to facilitate access to appropriate community-based health programs.

The project is supported by the Councils of Port Adelaide Enfield, Walkerville and Prospect, the Adelaide Primary Health Network, Flinders University and the Northern Communities Health Foundation with funding from The Northern Community Health & Research Foundation, The Hospital Research Foundation and significant in-kind support from The Adelaide Primary Health Network.


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