15/06/2023 “The change is incredible to see”: the role of social prescribing in combatting the UK’s Diabetes epidemic

According to the latest figures from Diabetes UK, 4.6 million people in the UK have either Type One (10%) or Type Two (90%) diabetes. A serious lifelong condition, that is estimated to cost the NHS roughly £1 million an hour, it is an area where social prescribing has potential to make a real difference.

This Diabetes Awareness Week, we are highlighting the ways that social prescribing can be both a fantastic preventative intervention for prediabetes people and a tool to support a healthy and happy life when living with the condition. Doctors rarely have the time to get to know the full picture of a person’s life, and how that might be impacting their ability to manage diabetes.

Link Workers have the time to get to know the full picture of a person’s life, and how that might be impacting their ability to manage diabetes. Through several phone or in-person sessions they can hone in on the circumstances that are contributing to that person’s health challenges. Financial stress, mental health difficulties or other physical health problems can all have a serious impact on our health and when diabetes isn’t properly managed, it can be serious.

Working with a link worker, it is easier to identify what the problem is and what might help. For example we know that physical activity can lessen the risk of type two diabetes by 30-40%. NASP also recently published an evidence review, which found that working close to nature can lead to many physical and mental health benefits, including lowered risk of diabetes and obesity.

Five people of different ages and ethnicities walk together on a sunny wooded path

Sally* was referred to a link worker by her GP, as she was borderline diabetic and needed help managing her weight. After a few sessions, she decided to go on a 12 week weight management programme with her link worker for moral support. The improved her diabetic control, so much so that she no longer needed to take any medication.

Social prescribing is not only a great way to support people like Sally, it can also helpful for those of us living with diabetes.

When Chris developed a bad back that meant he could no longer work, his health spiralled, which led to him bedbound for almost four years with two diabetic ulcers on his leg that eventually needed to be amputated. He felt incredibly isolated at that time and was becoming very depressed.

It was only when his GP referred him to a local social prescribing service set up by the charity, Involve Kent, that he received “three phone calls that would change my life”.

Chris said: It was a lifeline…I was really impressed that they would sit and have a conversation with me about my life, and take an interest.”

The conversations led to him taking part in ‘Actively Involve’, a programme that encourages people to get outside and be more active in the local community. He started volunteering in the local allotment and loved it. When a position as a Horticultural Wellbeing Coordinator at the charity became available, he applied, and got the job.

He said: “Now I’m one of the people who has those conversations, like the ones that saved my life… The people I work with know I’ve been there, so it makes any conversation about a very difficult subject a little bit easier for them. I’ve seen people come onto the allotment - heads down, no smiling or talking - then I see the same person walk out six months later, head up with smile on their face. The change is incredible to see.”

Chris is now much healthier and happier, and is currently in physiotherapy, learning how to walk with a prosthetic leg.

He said: “It’s always hard to motivate yourself when you’ve got an illness… it’s much more difficult to motivate yourself when you’ve got no contact from friends or family. The friends I’ve made at Involve have supported me massively, aided my recovery and I cannot thank them enough.”

Thank you to Chris, Sally* and Involve Kent and for sharing their stories.

*name changed for confidentiality.

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