We are here to support, promote and develop voluntary and community action in Middlesbrough

Back to the Future for social prescribing

I feel a bit like Marty McFly having just stepped out of Doc's DeLorean and being transported back to 2014.  Scotland voted to stay a member of the United Kingdom in an independent referendum, Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi won the Nobel Peace Prize, Friends celebrated its 20th anniversary making me feel very old, Conchita Wurst won Eurovision, Ed Sheeran and ‘thinking out loud’ makes number one twice and we were watching ‘The Theory of Everything’ and ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ at the cinema. I have just taken early retirement after more than thirty years with Middlesbrough Council (note the emphasis on early!) and am now working at MVDA on the development of a social prescribing business case for South Tees.

So, forgive me if I’m feeling a bit of ‘haven’t I been here before?’.  With the recent announcement by NHS England that social prescribing and community-based support is a key part of its Long-Term Plan to make personalised care business as usual across the health and care system, there is now a flurry of events, activities, meetings and conversations taking place nationally, regionally and here locally in Middlesbrough and the South Tees.

Nervousness and anxiety

Although this fills me with excitement, a renewed energy and a feeling that all the effort that I, MVDA and other colleagues including the VCS and local GPs put into the development of the business case for South Tees in 2014/15 has not been wasted, I still have a feeling of nervousness and anxiety.

The announcement by NHS England that funding will be made available for Link Workers to be recruited in each of the Primary Care Networks is great news. But it is important that all those partners with responsibility for making this happen do so with thought, careful consideration and planning. This is to ensure the most appropriate model for the area is developed and in consultation with those who will be affected and benefit from a local social prescribing model. The conversations taking place need to be joined up to ensure there is a fair and consistent approach and that all our local communities benefit from social prescribing.

As acknowledged by NHS England and numerous social prescribing models across the country, the Link Workers are the lynchpin that holds a social prescribing service together; without them, social prescribing will not succeed.

There is also a need to ensure we build capacity into the system, particularly within the VCS to be able to deal with any potential increase in demand for their services and activities, or we will simply end up shifting the deck chairs and moving the current burden on primary care services to the VCS.

Across the South Tees, we have a wide range of VCOs, ranging from grassroots local community groups to national charities, who work tirelessly in our local communities to improve the lives of our local residents offering a warm welcome to anyone who wishes to join their local group or access local services where capacity allows.  Social prescribing enables us to make better use of these local facilities and assets with the capability of helping to improve the health and wellbeing of local people.

I am looking forward to leading future discussions with the local VCS and being part of the wider strategic development of social prescribing across South Tees.  I have already received a flurry of responses to a recent email to local VCOs who want to be involved in future discussions, and I will be in touch with you all shortly. Watch this space for future updates and how to get involved.

Lesley Spaven


Head of Community and Service Development

Email: lesley.spaven@mvdauk.org.uk