Doctors in Crawley are finding that treating loneliness is an effective way of saving the NHS money.
Doctors’ time is being taken up by elderly people who only want a chat, says the head of Crawley’s Community and Voluntary Service (CVS).
They do not really need to go to the doctors but they do because it is actually a social outing for themPeter Mansfield-Clark MBE
“A lot of these people are pretty much housebound because they are lonely and isolated,” said Peter Mansfield-Clark MBE, CEO of, Crawley CVS, which is running the project.
“They do not really need to go to the doctors but they do because it is actually a social outing for them.
“But it does waste doctors’ time. They also make a lot of use of A and E at hospitals.”
To reduce this problem Crawley CVS has teamed up with four doctors surgeries in Crawley to identify elderly patients who might feel alone and introduce them to social activities to make them feel less lonely.
‘Social prescribing’ is already used widely in the north of the country, Mr Mansfield-Clark says, but Crawley’s is the first scheme of its kind in the south east.
Staff at Southgate Medical Group, Leacroft Medical Practice, Langley Corner Surgery and Gossops Green Medical Centre, are trained to identify elderly patients who might benefit from the scheme and refer them to community support co-ordinator Tracy Olckers.
She talks to them about their lifestyle and what things they like to do.
Services available include indoor bowls, walking football with Crawley Town Football Club, and counselling, all free of charge. There are currently 34 organisations signed up to the scheme.
Once an activity has been chosen Ms Olckers takes them along and makes sure they are settled in, staying until they have been able to meet others.
“It is just a fantastic opportunity to link local people with local services,” she said.
There is no charge to the surgeries or the people benefitting from the scheme, the only cost comes when the organisations running the activity send an invoice to Crawley CVS.
Crawley Borough Council agreed to fund the scheme for a one year pilot, but funding beyond June this year is uncertain.
Mr Mansfield-Clark said: “It is a fantastic thing to have in this town. Everyone I’ve spoken to has said, ‘That sounds fantastic why didn’t we have it 10 years ago?’”
He says the scheme is saving the NHS ‘quite a lot of money’, along with doctors appointments and time at A&E.
“The surgeries involved think it is absolutely fantastic. One doctor told me he receives ten appointments per week of this type of person,” he added.
“The problem we have is we do not have any funding to carry on from June,” Mr Mansfield-Clark said.
However, he said the success of the scheme ‘is going to put lot of pressure on things at the Clinical Commissioning Group to carry on funding things’.
“Crawley has got a very aging population which is growing.
“Something needs to be done about it.”
Matthew Cullis, practice manager at Leacroft Medical Practice, said: “Leacroft Medical Practice is proud to be involved in the social prescribing pilot scheme.
“We have found that many of our patients who have been referred into the scheme have benefitted tremendously from the social interaction and activities provided, and this has helped not only their physical but also their emotional and mental well-being. In terms of providing excellent patient care, we believe that the pilot has been and will continue to be very successful, and it has our full support.”