NINETEEN of the most influential health charities operating in Scotland have called on the government to urgently address the growing trend of health inequality – and are recommending the adoption of widespread social prescribing and collaborative working.
The appeal follows a report published by the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee that laid bare the major health inequality crisis in Scotland and dubbed policy action to date as insufficient.
Movement for Health (MFH) – a coalition of charities that includes SAMH, Chest Heart and Stroke Scotland, Age Scotland and Paths for All – is supportive of the committee’s recommendations and echoes the call to the Scottish Government to adopt a national approach to social prescribing, with coordinated and preventative action urgently needed.
A key recommendation made by the committee is to embed Community Link Workers (CLW) into GP surgeries to ensure social prescribing is utilised correctly – a step supported by MFH who underline its importance and believe there would be almost immediate improvements.
Social prescribing is a way for local agencies to refer patients to a link worker for support outside of health services to combat social determinants, through community organisations, local support groups and holistic hubs across multiple sessions – of which physical activity can be a key area of focus.
Dr Emma Lunan, Chair of Movement for Health, said: “The double-whammy of the pandemic followed by the cost of living crisis means that poor areas of Scotland are now on the whole markedly more unhealthy than affluent areas.
“Currently there is no overarching strategy to tackle health inequalities in Scotland. That needs to change and we agree with the committee’s recommendations to develop a strategy or set of principles to guide policy making to ensure all levels of Government are contributing positively.
“A bigger investment has to be put on social prescribing. The undervalued process can improve outcomes for people by giving them choice and control over their lives and can even improve their sense of belonging when getting involved in community groups.
“Proactive steps are required to ensure that future design and delivery of public services properly recognise and address these needs – especially of those experiencing extreme disadvantage. Groups like MFH will be key to bridging the gap in knowledge across diverse cultures and conditions.
“Social prescribing has been recognised as a vital tool required post-pandemic to improve the mental and physical health of the country. Investing in the process means we can cater and understanding that different areas of Scotland have different needs and require different levels of support.
“The charities involved in MFH represent a large proportion of those disadvantaged by current services and the group is ready to work in unity with relevant bodies to see social prescribing more widely adopted.
“If the committee’s findings confirm anything it is that tackling health inequalities must be a major public health priority because lives literally depend on it.”
The MFH coalition found the report gave a comprehensive insight into the lack of cross-portfolio collaboration and cross-committee scrutiny which revealed current policies lack strategic co-ordination which is ultimately exacerbating existing inequalities.
The coalition believes the solution will not be a one size fits all approach so it is key to have different voices involved at inception if any major difference is to be made.
Schemes already exist to offer social prescribing which involves a range of activities typically provided by voluntary and community sector organisations. Examples include volunteering, arts activities, group learning, gardening, befriending, cookery, healthy eating advice and sports. Physical activity is a key component, delivering health benefits as well as a connection with communities.
With pressure for the Scottish Government to act increasing following publication of the report findings and coalitions like MFH becoming more vocal, social prescribing services will require leadership, collaboration with relevant industry experts and funding to become fit for purpose.
Emma added: “The negative impact of current action to address inequalities cannot be underestimated and it has caused great stress and anxiety for individuals, families and entire communities in Scotland.
“This report recommendations are encouraging and offers a route forward to notably increase the level of effort and resource invested in tackling health inequalities.”
Movement for Health is a Scottish coalition of 19 leading health charities who champion physical activity for people with long term health conditions.
These include: Age Scotland, Alliance, Alzheimer Scotland, Breast Cancer Now, Asthma and Lung UK, Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland, Diabetes UK, Macmillan Cancer Support, MS Society, Parkinson’s Scotland, Paths for All, RNIB, SAMH, Scotland Versus Arthritis, Stroke Association, VHS, Waverly Care, Scottish Disability Sport and Community Leisure Scotland.
With four key missions, Movement for Health is working towards raising awareness within health practitioners, physical activity and sport providers, policy makers and the general public, by providing research, resources and political action to support those who are affected to get more active.
For more information on Movement for Health, visit: https://www.movementforhealth.scot/