A social prescribing platform designed to help patients receive non-clinical treatment has told of its success in helping boost mental health during lockdown. 

Elemental, which is comprised of former community workers, has been at the forefront of tackling the mental health impact of coronavirus. 

Social prescribing, sometimes referred to as community referral, is a means of enabling GPs, nurses and other primary care professionals to refer people to a range of local, non-clinical services. 

Software provider Elemental’s social prescribing platform is used by 310 digital ‘social prescribing’ hubs and has 4,050 health and care professionals using the platform to make, manage and report on patient referrals into community based programmes and services that improve a person’s mental and physical health. 

Elemental integrates with GP clinical systems provider across the UK, EMIS, SystmOne and Vision. It currently helps almost 50,000 people across England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland digitally connect people to non-medical sources of support in their own communities. 

These include debt advice, employment support, vocational training, volunteering activities, and learning. 

Co-founder Jennifer Neff said: “The lockdown has been necessary of course to minimise the impact of the pandemic on people’s physical health. 

“But what hasn’t been spoken about as much is the effect on mental health, particularly in areas of social deprivation. 

“We have been working with a range of partners to help support at-risk individuals with the practical difficulties posed by Covid-19, which if left unaddressed can lead to the need for clinical intervention. 

“Our digital tools, which allows users to make, manage and report on referrals to local prescribing hubs with ease and confidence, have never been in greater demand.” 

One of Elemental’s partnerships is with Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust, one of the largest mental health trusts in England. 

Following a review of the social determinants of poor mental health more than five years ago, Mersey Care established a series of Life Rooms, small localised hubs at the heart of communities, particularly in areas of social deprivation. 

Mersey Care director Michael Crilly said: “It is the social issues that really have among the greatest impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing. 

“There is a much bigger focus now on people actually being able to prevent the impact of mental distress. 

“Social prescribing has been an incredibly powerful tool for us over the past three to four years. 

“What we have been doing very rapidly with Elemental is taking our digital platform and creating over-the-phone video conferencing support for individuals who are dealing with the practical realities of Covid-19. 

“So many of those actually won’t in the first instance be mental health related. We have been able to connect with people 2,500 in the last five weeks – that’s pretty phenomenal.” 

He said that the contact allowed services to address social and practical issues such as food and shopping. 

“If those are not addressed, it can result in heightened anxiety and a fall into potential crisis services. We have been able to work pro-actively to head off clinical need. 

“People are petrified of the potential impact of Covid-19 in the future, the loss of jobs, of livelihood, how will they make their finances work. 

“By being able to work in this digital way we feel as though we have been able to head off some of what could be a mental health pandemic.”