Lewisham Council is encouraging GPs to refer patients, including the elderly, to non-clinical, voluntary and community sector organisations.

Lewisham’s mayor and cabinet agreed to develop "social prescribing" in the borough – a scheme where GPs and other healthcare professionals are encouraged to refer patients to non-clinical wellbeing services, often provided by volunteers, to design their own “personalised solutions”.

Surgery receptionists are also being trained on referring patients, according to council documents.

Deputy mayor and cabinet member for health and wellbeing Cllr Chris Best told the mayor and cabinet there were two schemes in the borough that used social prescribing, which is in line with the council's “community approach”.

“Our Safe and Independent Living (SAIL) scheme and Community Connections…within that programme there are many examples of social prescribing such as Healthy Walks, [and] Nature’s Gym,” she said.

“One of the key things the we will be developing is our online Lewisham Health and Care Directory of Services, which I think is really important because our residents can self-navigate for their own self-care, and I think part of this is empowering our residents to do more.”

Lewisham’s ageing population who have increasingly complex health needs was a strong incentive to adopt the scheme, according to council documents.

These reports also point to England-wide research which shows 20 per cent of GP visits are attributable to social rather than medical problems, at a cost of £400 million per year.

Cllr Carol Howard questioned whether there would be any start-up costs with the scheme, including small payments for costs incurred by volunteers.

But Cllr Best said there would be no costs associated with the scheme.

“We are saying it has no specific cost – we want to get all GPs on board in social prescribing, it’s something we have really encouraged them to do.”