Our Social Prescribing Story
Our Founder, Sirinda Bhandal, talks about our journey into social prescribing
Simply Connect was born from a Council for Voluntary Service (CVS) – Voluntary Action Sheffield. In 2008 we spotted an opportunity to support the voluntary and community sector through the effective use of digital. Many organisations were struggling to provide monitoring and impact reporting for their local authority and NHS contracts they were delivering. We developed a digital solution (then called VC Connect) to support the sector in the delivery and reporting of these contracts to track their work with clients, evidence their outcomes and impact data to funders.
Our VC Connect business quickly grew, from supporting a handful of large voluntary sector organisations to supporting over 70 organisations in the first three years. Working within the charity sector ourselves, we understood out customer needs better than most other digital providers, which gave us our USP.
Our Social Prescribing journey begins
In 2014 I was visiting a client – Soo Nevison, then the Chair of NAVCA and CEO of Voluntary Action Calderdale – discussing a ‘new idea’ being discussed in a GP publication all about prescribing knitting to help reduce loneliness and isolation in older people. We knew from experience that signposting people tocommunity services was core business for a lot of CVS – it was something we did everyday. Working on reception in a CVS we would regularly receive calls from the public, from “I need someone to help with my garden” to “I need someone to take me to the doctors”. We were often the last port of call when people didn’t know where else to turn. We were already, in a small way, socially prescribing.
But social prescribing is about much more than signposting people to services, its about supporting them to access those services too, whether we were dealing with an older person who had recently been bereaved and was feeling lonely, or a young person struggling to find work due to lack of experience. Often just having someone to talk to, was one of the main reasons people called our charity.
This is where the idea for our social prescribing platform was first developed – we already had a wealth of information on community services at our fingertips, which we were using to socially prescribe. We needed to open up that data and raise awareness with NHS staff, such as GP nurses, local adult social care teams, the police, fire and rescue, pharmacists, the general public – in fact to anyone supporting people in need in their local community.
We started working with VA Calderdale to develop our social prescribing model and identified around £20K funding we could invest to build this social prescribing framework. We already had a case management system which tracked clients and the support they were receiving and a standard directory of services, but what we needed was a platform which tracked the complete client journey from assessment, through to referral and final outcome.
A few months into development and we were joined by Community 360 (formerly Colchester CVS), and Chelmsford CVS who also invested into the development. Community 360 were already running a social prescribing project called ‘My Social Prescription’ and using our core platform to record client data, services accessed and outcomes. They brought insight that ensured our platform was built around the three core needs people normally present to their GP with, when its a non-medical intervention that is required.
We consulted with healthcare providers, statutory services, CCG’s, members of the public, and GP’s to make sure how we developed the platform, was inline with patient needs identified.
In 2015 we were delighted to launch our first social prescribing platform with Chelmsford CVS & Community 360 called Connect Well Essex. Since then we have helped launch a number of social prescribing projects around the country. Our newest project is the Department of Health, Health and Wellbeing funded project Involve Kent. Social prescribers based in 5 GP surgeries across West Kent will be using our platform to assess patients, refer to community services and track patient outcomes.
Our vision has always been for every city to have the Connect for Wellbeing platform (now known as ‘Connect Well’) to offer a joined up, locally facilitated approach to social prescribing. We work with our local delivery partners to deliver an effective place-based social prescribing service.
This is an approach we continue to champion and support.
Get in touch
Are you looking to setup a social prescribing service in your local area?
If you are a CCG looking for a partner that can engage with the voluntary and community sector and help shape your social prescribing strategy, or you are a healthcare provider wanting access to local social prescribing projects, please get in touch.
The VCS trust Simply Connect and over 250,000 users across the UK interact with our platforms daily, to access social prescribing, volunteering and community services.
Find out more about our Social Prescribing projects.