Healthy old manBeing prescribed non-medical treatments, such as sports groups or cookery courses, by their doctors is benefitting people with mental health conditions, a pilot has found.

The Rotherham Social Prescribing Mental Health Pilot was developed to help people with mental health conditions overcome the barriers that prevent discharge from secondary mental health care services. 

The 12-month pilot, which has now been extended to March 2017, helps service users build and direct their own packages of support by encouraging them to access personalised services provided by local voluntary and community groups.

The pilot was delivered in partnership by Rotherham, Doncaster and South Humber NHS Foundation Trust (RDaSH) and a group of local voluntary sector organisations led by Voluntary Action Rotherham on behalf of NHS Rotherham Clinical Commissioning Group.

Sheffield Hallam University's Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research (CRESR) evaluated the pilot and found that it had helped increase the number of discharges from mental health services and improved service users’ social and emotional wellbeing.

There were 156 service users referred to the pilot, with 136 (87%) taking up one of the voluntary and community services available, such as sports groups, craft classes, cookery courses, swimming, learning programmes, employment skills, yoga and therapeutic art groups.

The research, which was measured against 8 different wellbeing outcomes, showed that: 93% of service users made progress against at least one outcome; 64% made progress against four or more outcomes and 39 service users were discharged from mental health services, out of 72 discharge review meetings.

In addition, the evaluation found evidence of the pilot’s wider social benefits. For instance, 3 service users had found employment, 24 had gone into training or education, 14 has started volunteering, 25 took up activities to improve their physical health and 40 continued to engage in voluntary sector activity once their social prescription had ended.

The report also estimated that social prescribing services could save local NHS services £4,281 for each discharged service user per year.

The pilot followed on from the successful Rotherham Social Prescribing Service for people with long-term health conditions, which has been operating since 2012.

Chris Dayson from CRESR said: "Following our comprehensive study of social prescribing for people with long-term health conditions earlier this year, this latest research for social prescribing in mental health services has proved equally positive for service users and the local NHS. 

"The evaluation found a range of positive impacts on the wellbeing of mental health service users following their engagement with social prescribing, which is a very encouraging outcome for the model.

"The personal stories we heard from service users reflected on how the service has had a tangible impact on vital aspects of people's lives, such as reducing isolation, encouraging healthy eating habits and improving self-esteem.

"Ultimately we have seen evidence of successful discharge for service users who have been supported by mental health services for up to 20 years, which is a core aim of the service. In the longer term the outcomes from social prescribing could help the local NHS services realise substantial savings."

Janet Wheatley, chief executive of Voluntary Action Rotherham, said: "The Mental Health Social Prescribing Service has shown that once again by working with local voluntary and community groups in a planned, resourced and ongoing way we can make massive improvements to the lives of service users, their families and within services themselves. We can really put people at the heart of their own health and care and tackle not just what is ‘a matter’ with them but more fundamentally ‘what matters to them.’"

Dianne Graham, Rotherham Care group director for RDaSH, said: “This pilot project is yielding excellent results. We want the best outcome possible for our patients and this project is helping people gain extra confidence, re-enter education, find a job, take up volunteering or improve their physical health. It has also meant that some patients have been discharged from mental health services as a result of the way this project has helped them in their recovery.”