OLDHAM Council signed what it claims is a pioneering contract to improve the health and wellbeing of hundreds of residents on the world’s first International Social Prescribing Day today (Thursday, March 14).

The local authority has awarded a three-year contract to a local consortium of voluntary and community organisations to create a "social prescribing innovation partnership arrangement" – thought to be one of the first for the public sector in England.

This will see community interest company Action Together, as the lead organisation, working with consortium charity partners Age UK Oldham, Positive Steps and Tameside, Oldham and Glossop Mind, to build upon the social prescribing across the borough.

Town hall chiefs say social prescribing is a vital part of their "thriving communities" programme which they say is already helping residents to make good life choices to improve their health, wellbeing and social welfare and take greater control – helping them to get the right help, at the right time, in the right place.

It prescribes social and community activities to patients who don’t need pills, connecting them instead to local community services, groups and opportunities, reducing social isolation and improving mental and physical health.

Oldham Council, on behalf of Oldham Cares, encouraged bidders to work together to form consortium bids so they could develop an effective borough-wide social prescribing network with social value and residents’ needs at its heart.

Initial elements of such a network have already been developed and delivered in the Oldham West cluster area.

This "innovation partnership" will now work with Oldham Cares Alliance partners and the voluntary, community, faith and social enterprise (VCFSE) sector to co-design, establish and deliver social prescribing across the borough.

Council leader Sean Fielding said: “What’s fundamentally different about this approach is that this contract gives our local consortium the flexibility to work with partners and residents to fix and support local needs and arrangements across the wider health and social care system, rather than us stipulating and fixing what the required service is at the outset.

“A one-size-fits-all health and care system cannot adequately tackle the increasing complexity of people’s needs and expectations, so this approach enables our innovation partnership to come up with flexible solutions in each area, focusing groups around primary care providers, constantly iterating and improving the delivery of the service, and also having a social value focus that creates opportunities for residents as part of that process.

“This is about us all in Oldham working cooperatively and flexibly to empower residents to live fitter, healthier lives and make better choices that will measurably help to combat anxiety, social isolation and depression.

“We know that around half of GP appointments aren’t directly related to medical conditions, but by referring people through this network to community facilities and social activities like walking, dancing, gardening and support groups, we can improve health and wellbeing far better than by simply handing out medication.

“Social prescribing has come of age in 2019. It’s an idea whose time has come and I’m delighted that Oldham residents are going to benefit from a truly innovative approach to delivering it.”

Liz Windsor-Welsh chief executive of Action Together said: “We will create a social prescribing network that quickly and easily connects people in Oldham to activities and support that is available in their local communities. In Oldham we have a strong voluntary and community sector, 37,000 volunteers give 90,000 hours of their time each week to over 1200 community groups and organisations."