Gloucestershire’s social prescribing service is expanding its remit to offer specific health and wellbeing support to armed forces personnel, veterans and their families and carers.

The initiative sees the appointment of a social prescribing link worker for the armed forces community for a one year period, using funding from NHS England.

Gloucestershire’s approach to social prescribing encourages health professionals to recognise the wider social context of people’s lives and how these factors influence their health and wellbeing.

For some who access the NHS, including armed forces personnel, veterans and their families, it could be that the answer lies not in medical treatment, but in community support or activities in their local neighbourhood.

Social prescribing enables GP surgery staff and local health and care agencies to refer people to one of the county’s 76 social prescribers.

Social prescribers give people time to focus on what matters to them and connect them to community groups and agencies for practical and emotional support.

Opportunities can range from arts, creativity, physical activity, cooking or learning new skills to volunteering, mutual aid, befriending and self-help. Social Prescribers can also signpost or refer to support for problems such as employment, benefits, housing, debt and legal advice.

Service life brings unique challenges and whilst many aspects of armed forces’ health needs are the same as other members of society, there are sometimes significant differences, particularly conditions related to life in the forces and the overall impact of military life on the family.

The newly appointed social prescribing link worker for the armed forces community will focus on supporting these specific needs whilst also ensuring that all the county’s social prescribers receive education and training to provide this support into the future.

Dr Olesya Atkinson, GP and Social Prescribing Lead at NHS Gloucestershire, said:

“In the context of increasing life expectancy, rising patient demand for GP consultations, growing levels of social isolation and anti-depressant medication, we have looked at how best to connect people to non-medical community activities.

This is particularly important for our armed forces personnel and veterans with their unique life experiences. We hope that through this new role, we can ensure that military staff and their families not only receive the full support they need through appropriate medical care, but also through local community networks and resources both now and for years to come.”

Cllr Andrew Gravells, armed forces champion for Gloucestershire County Council said:

I’m delighted that we are able to introduce this new social prescribing link worker dedicated to supporting the armed forces community.

Having heard through my work on the armed forces covenant that it was working successfully elsewhere in the south west, I was keen to introduce it in Gloucestershire and it’s wonderful to see this vision become a reality thanks to our partnership working.

Together with our partners, we want to do all we can support our veterans, as well as serving military personnel, both while they are in service and as they move into civilian life.

This initiative will make it much easier for our armed forces personnel and their families to access a wide range of help and support which is tailored to their needs, and help them to enjoy healthy, happy lives.”