Group of people planting vegetables in greenhouseNorthamptonshire’s new countywide social prescribing service, known as Spring, is now fully operational with the aim of providing support to residents who are living with long-term health conditions (LTCs).

Supported by the NHS, Public Health Northamptonshire and the government’s Life Chances Fund, Spring uses a non-clinical approach called social prescribing. This approach is designed to empower local people to regain control of their physical and mental health and wellbeing for improved life satisfaction.

Spring began receiving referrals in July 2021 and has worked with more than 200 people in its first months of delivery. Now fully operational, with 15 Link Workers and a growing team, the service aims to help over 1,000 Northamptonshire residents during 2022.

Around 15 million people in England have one or more long-term condition (Source: The King’s Fund). In Northamptonshire, the proportion of people with long-term conditions is higher still, with 1 in 3 residents managing at least one health condition (Source: Population Needs in Northamptonshire, page 8). Many face a range of personal challenges, including housing issues, debt, isolation, loneliness and a lack of hobbies or interests – all of which hinder people’s ability to lead healthier, more meaningful lives. People with long-term conditions are also more likely to suffer with poor mental health, with 30% living with anxiety or depression (Source: Population Needs in Northamptonshire, page 10).

Spring has been designed to help. Its dedicated Link Workers – employees and volunteers who work directly with participants in the programme – support individuals to identify areas of their life that they want to improve and provide them with the tools to do so. A key characteristic of Spring is that the Link Workers remain in contact with an individual for six to 12 months, supporting their well-being journey over an extended period to facilitate a lasting change.

Spring Link Workers seek to understand participants’ priorities, unique strengths, and interests; build up a personalised plan geared towards an independent and active lifestyle; and support them on their journey towards a fuller life. Within Northamptonshire, Spring colleagues work in partnership with NHS Link Workers based at GP practices around the county who provide a shorter-term social prescribing service lasting three months, helping to match individuals with local community health options.

Social prescribing is a holistic approach to health that recognises how various social, economic and environmental factors can affect people. It enables healthcare professionals to refer people to a range of non-clinical groups and services in the local area, for example, arts activities, gardening, healthy eating advice and physical activity. The NHS strongly supports such schemes, which target the causes of health inequalities by helping people to build healthier habits – whilst also nurturing a sense of greater personal control and belonging within a community. With 40% of people in Northamptonshire reporting that they have less social interaction than they would like, now is a great time to get involved and make a change.

Spring is particularly well-suited to support those who are struggling with their mental health, have complex social needs that affect their wellbeing, have one or more long-term conditions, are lonely or isolated, and/or carers. Locally funded by the NHS and Public Health Northamptonshire, the service works with specialist local delivery partners, including Northamptonshire Carers, Mayday Trust, General Practice Alliance and Age UK Northamptonshire.
Lucy Wightman, Northamptonshire’s Director of Public Health, said: “There is a lot of evidence, not just in Northamptonshire but across the country, that people seek clinical support when actually a lot of the root causes of their challenges are much more social. We’ve got a really big social prescribing programme that fundamentally is going to change the way that services are provided, and certainly has raised the profile of why prevention is so important.”

To find out more about Spring, or if you feel that you or someone you work with would benefit from the service, please visit springnorthamptonshire.org or call 01604 974995.