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Collaborating for real change – social prescribing and Local Area Coordination – a blog by Nick Sinclair and Sian Lockwood

Community Catalysts really welcomes NHS England’s commitment in its Long Term Plan to the social prescribing model. The plan has an ambitious goal of employing one thousand more link workers by 2021, with the expectation that they will work with up to 900,000 individuals. This level of investment in social prescribing is an important indicator of NHS England’s shift towards strengths-based approaches that focus on the whole person and understand that health and wellbeing is often affected as much by social as clinical issues.

NHS England’s personalisation strategy Universal Personalised Care published at the end of January is intended to help implement the Long-Term Plan. It gives equal weight to social prescribing but recognises the importance of community and asset-based approaches such as Local Area Coordination to the success of the model ‘we are clear that local areas should have in place a range of community-based approaches and a clear understanding of existing community assets and gaps. This includes asset-based approaches such as Local Area Coordination’. It is really encouraging to see that NHS England recognises the complementary nature of the models, something that we see in practice in the areas where Local Area Coordination is embedded.

Community Catalysts, became the home of the Local Area Coordination Network, in June last year. We feel privileged to be able to support this highly personalised and holistic approach which helps people untangle themselves from often complex and destructive situations and take steps towards living the life they want. This evidence-based model sees Local Area Coordinators embedded in local communities and working in a strongly place-based way. Their local presence means that they really understand the community and are well-connected. They are locally known and accessible to local people who introduce themselves or friends and neighbours needing some help. Coordinators help people to think about their good life and draw upon their own strengths and the assets of their community to take steps towards that. In the process people begin to build local, natural, mutually valued relationships and gain the confidence they need to contribute to their neighbourhood.

In the short time that we have been working with Local Area Coordination we have seen growing numbers of areas where social prescribing and Local Area Coordination work in complementary and collaborative ways, adding value to each other’s work.

The collaboration between Local Area Coordination and Social Prescribing in York is a fantastic example as highlighted nicely by Jennie Cox, a Local Area Coordinator. Jennie says ‘we are often asked if there is an overlap or duplication in our work [the work of local area coordinators and social prescribing], however we have forged such smart ways of working in co-production that I couldn’t now imagine one without the other’. Her colleague Jasmine Howard who leads the social prescribing team concurs saying ‘this works so well, I think largely because we share the same values – being collaborative, person centred and strengths based.

Thurrock provides a similar example of really effective collaborative working that has strong local impact. The social prescribing team take referrals from GP practices but often introduce people to the idea of Local Area Coordination. The shared approach which places the person at the centre of their own life, enables both teams to collaborate in helping people to achieve their vision of a fuller and happier life.

We really look forward to working closely with more social prescribing teams as they develop across the country, ensuring that our two approaches continue to complement each other helping people to change their lives for the better.

Sian Lockwood, CEO of Community Catalysts and Nick Sinclair, Director of the Local Area Coordination Network
February 2019