Last year, ForViva was one of the first housing providers in the country to pilot a new approach to health and wellbeing in a local community in Ellesmere Port where, through ForHousing, we are working in partnership with the landlord Cheshire West and Chester Council to deliver a social prescribing project called Passport to Wellbeing.

Social prescribing, which enables people to choose from a range of non-clinical support, is becoming increasingly recognised by the government as a way of not just mitigating the clinical impact of some illnesses when they happen but enabling lifestyle changes that could prevent them in the first place.

While at national level it continues to be seen largely as in the domain of the health sector, at ForHousing, we recognised that housing has a vital role to play in delivering effective social prescribing initiatives and improving lives.

Housing providers are key coordinators in communities; we might be the only service that a person comes into contact with. We form a relationship with individuals through regular contact such as tenancy checks, repairs and other maintenance services, which results in building trust with people where they are able to identify potential issues when they arise more quickly.

In developing Passport to Wellbeing, ForHousing formed a partnership with the local GP surgery and other charity and voluntary organisations; Healthbox, Mersey Forest and Cheshire West & Chester Council’s Work Zone. This partnership is vital, because GPs are often the first port of call when someone needs support.

However, GPs are increasingly finding that they are spending more and more time dealing with patients presenting with non-clinical conditions, such as loneliness and isolation, where other services in their communities are better placed to address their challenges. It is estimated that a fifth of a GP’s consultation time is spent on non-health problems.

A digital platform, Elemental Software, allows the GP surgery to easily refer patients presenting with non-clinical issues to the services and support offered by both ForHousing and our partners.

The GP surgery will utilise the Passport to Wellbeing scheme when they deem a social model would be more beneficial than a medical model in improving people’s health and wellbeing.

This could range from a social prescription to ForHousing’s money advice and wellbeing service, Cheshire West & Chester Council’s employment support services, to voluntary sector projects to increase confidence and self-esteem, Nordic walking, healthy eating sessions, coffee mornings, and more.

The pilot focuses on four key areas including financial wellbeing, health and employment and training and managing your home. This is because we are passionate about enabling people to maintain successful tenancies. Passport to Wellbeing is all about empowering tenants to achieve this, while also taking proactive steps to improve their feelings of wellbeing.

What has always been fundamental to us in developing the project is ensuring that the person is always at the centre, and in control of what their own pathways to wellbeing are.

Elemental’s digital platform enables us to monitor their progress, and to track improvements in wellbeing scores throughout the social prescription. We are seeing some really positive improvements, so we know that these interventions are making a tangible difference.

For example, one lady visited her GP due to issues with her mobility and personal care, but it became clear that she was experiencing loneliness, with no immediate family nearby who could offer her any support.

Her GP was able to use Elemental’s platform to refer her to our Wellbeing service, where she received a wide range of support including being introduced to the local Trinity Church where she took part in a range of social activities.

The referral also meant that at ForHousing, we were able to register her for a more suitable home to meet her mobility needs and refer her to social services for a care assessment as well as to an occupational therapist.

She told us that she didn’t know what she would have done without the support from Passport to Wellbeing, and she is now feeling less isolated and playing much more of an active role in her community.

As we near the one-year milestone, we are reviewing the impact of the pilot and looking at ways to roll it out across other neighbourhoods, recognising that this more community-based model of care is the direction of travel for the future and one where housing needs to be at the heart.

The housing sector plays a crucial role in engaging and supporting other sectors to help join up the dots in terms of all the difference services and support available. Especially important if the health sector is to achieve the vision set out in the NHS Long Term Plan which outlines significant preventative measures and plans to improve access to mental health services for adults and children.

Our learning so far has been that engaging with the local GP surgery, and developing a strong partnership with the statutory and voluntary sectors, has been absolutely key to the project’s success, together with the right digital solution to make referrals easy and offer patients choice in how they can take ownership of their own wellbeing.

With health inequalities estimated to cost the NHS around £20 billion a year, working in partnership we can make a significant contribution to changing this through initiatives like Passport to Wellbeing, and most importantly, empower everyone living in our communities to live full and healthy lives.

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