Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt recently came out in support of GPs prescribing treatment for damp in patient’s homes. According to Pulse Magazine, Hunt said that some CCGs are already going in to fix damp problems and stated that he did not want to stand in the way of more holistic approaches to health such as addressing housing problems, loneliness and isolation.
Housing improvement is becoming part of new initiatives in social prescribing, designed to address the wider reasons why patients attend. Social prescribing already exists in my area, where isolation is common and communities are increasingly fragmented. The scheme includes lunch clubs for the lonely and fitness groups but there are also wider opportunities such as ballroom dancing classes. While I can see the benefits of the project, particularly for lonely frequent attenders or those with mental health problems, I sometimes have an odd moment wondering what my role has come to when my pen hovers over the tick-boxes on the referral form.
My friends from medical school have followed careers like cardiac surgery. They get to burst through the operating theatre doors after performing a transplant, ripping off their mask to reveal their chiselled jaw and say to the relatives, “It’s been tough but he’s gonna make it”, while I am spotting who might benefit from a knitting club. How did my career come down to this? And how do we know if patients are complying? Do we need computerised records of dance class attendance or reviewing a satisfactory improvement in their tango or quickstep? What are the measurable outcomes of these schemes?
I have no problem with improving patients lives it it means reducing unnecessary appointments or the need for medication or else better mental health all round (I include myself in that list). But sorting out structural building work seems one step too far. Soon we will be prescribing popular home improvement brands such as Dulux or Ronseal along with all those billions of statins we are supposed to be handing out. Problem with damp in your home? Always check with your GP. And why not get the house ready for Christmas and have your three piece re-upholstered as well? Now that would be in line with the vision of a one-stop shop for health.
Dr Claire Davies, Network Locum Columnist