Nutrition knowledge for healthcare professionals and involvement in community projects is the future of General Practice. With the rise of chronic disease and the resulting strain on the healthcare service, we have to collectively find a way to ease the burden. General Practice which is loved by so many medics is fast becoming less appealing as they are able to spend less quality time with patients. Often patients have to wait weeks for an appointment, they are allocated less than 10 minutes for an appointment and may not consistently see the same doctor. This is a far cry from the traditional General Practice where a GP knew their patient and the family and there was a sense of community.
An immense strain on the healthcare system arises because of chronic disease which is frequently lifestyle driven so it stands to reason that addressing lifestyle disease could lead to a healthcare model with longevity as well as making us a healthier nation! So how can we all play a part in making this change? Providing GP's skills they need to help patients with lifestyle disease is vital and one of the most obvious gaps in their knowledge is nutrition. Medical school provides very little nutrition education and there is an urgent need to educate healthcare professionals, GP's and trainee doctors with a grounding in evidence-based nutrition. In the words of Dr Michael Dixon, GP, Chairman of College of Medicine and NHS lead for Social Prescribing; 'Food is by far the most important factor in health and illness.'
Lifestyle disease is not only driven by unhealthy eating though; we also live in a society where loneliness, stress, physical inactivity and a lack of purpose in life are commonplace and there is a need for not only nutrition knowledge by healthcare professionals but for General Practice to be involved in community projects.
There are pockets of activity happening around the UK to bring social prescribing to General Practice. One of these great initiatives is Lambeth GP Food Co-op.
Doug Richards was very fortunate to recently attend their 6th birthday celebration attended by HRH The Duchess of Cornwall at the Stockwell Community Centre and he fills us in on the good work that is being done.
"This was my first visit to any Food Co-op, let alone a GP Food Co-op which redefines a new partnership between patients, GPs, nurses and local residents with incredible success. Over the past 6 years, Lambeth GP Co-op has built 11 food growing gardens in GPs surgeries across Lambeth connecting GP's with their communities in new and exciting ways;
- Patients with long-term health conditions participate in gardening groups at their local surgery giving them the opportunity to socialise, learn and grow food together which has clearly had significant benefits in helping them improve their own health and wellbeing.
- Created a valuable contribution to the local economy by selling the food at Kings College Hospital to NHS staff and hospital caterers. The GP Food Co-op not only enables and empowers local people to learn new skills, to be confident and sociable.
- Created what could become a pioneering first NHS Community Kitchen in Lambeth. The Brixton Hill surgery has teamed up with a restaurant (Katakata) across the road who have offered their garden for patients to learn from the staff how to cook simple vegan and vegetarian dishes. As the surgery does not have a garden this initiative will help GP's and others refer patients to the gardening group.
Lambeth GP Food Co-op is perhaps a glimpse of how healthcare needs to look in the future. It demonstrates how local people can become involved in their GP practices and in turn GP's to offer a far more proactive and sustainable model with lower appointments and health issues.
Most importantly it is demonstrating a lifestyle solution which is far more sustainable; empowering people to take control of their own health through social interaction, healthier eating, moderate activity, confidence and a stronger purpose in life - social and food on prescription in one which will help all of us live longer and happier in better health. If we bring together nutrition knowledge for healthcare professionals with these wonderful community projects we have a future healthcare model to be proud of.
The main takeout for me though was the commitment, friendship and joy it has created in the local community which you can feel so strongly in talking to the community at the event whether they are a patient, GP or resident. Each and every person feels a real sense of achievement, ownership and belief that far more is possible. This was both inspiring but also credible and I really did walk away with a sense that their journey has only just begun. Lambeth has a population of 325,000 people, 14,000 of whom have more than one long-term health condition, such as arthritis, heart disease or persistent pain. Clearly, there is much to do but if Lambeth GPCo-op continues to be supported financially the pace of the changes could accelerate rapidly and benefit so many more in the borough.
Lambeth and similar national examples need to be held up so we can all support them in realising their full potential and inspiring other communities to do the same. I for one, both in a business capacity as CEO of Sano, but also in a personal capacity look forward to supporting Lambeth GP Food Co-op and other social prescribing initiatives in any way I can. Firstly by helping bring nutrition knowledge to healthcare professionals but also by supporting these community projects that are the future of General Practice."
Dr Dixon in this short clip at the Lambeth birthday celebrations talks about how Lambeth GP Food Co-op has succeeded in connecting General Practice to the community and that it is social prescribing at its very best.