For many people, social connectedness is strongly associated with their workplace. Social prescribing is a model of care that involves medical and wellbeing professionals assessing and referring people with health and psychosocial needs to non-medical services that assist in reducing isolation and disadvantage.
Southern Cross University independently evaluated the results of the Plus Social pilot study, which is coordinated by Primary and Community Care Services. This is the first known study to evaluate a social prescribing intervention for psychosocial rehabilitation for injured workers. It found that psychosocial interventions, such as those enabled by Plus Social, encourage optimism and connectedness that can promote workplace injury recovery and improve wellbeing.
Significant and meaningful improvements in all measures of biopsychosocial wellbeing, as well as in work readiness, Certificate of Capacity hours, social participation, and in reducing health service utilisation, were also identified by Southern Cross University. In addition, the University’s review found participants of the program had greater self-awareness, social supports, and ability to cope with the effects of their workplace injury and employment loss.
Sara Kahlau, Group Executive Customer and Community at icare said, "There is growing international evidence that social isolation can negatively affect health and wellbeing and we are committed to finding innovative ways to rebuild connection to aid recovery. Therefore, the icare Foundation invested $1.4 million seed funding in the social prescribing pilot initiative between 2017 and 2019."
"Being less active and feeling isolated, due to losing their workplace connections and contact with their colleagues, could be detrimental to injured workers while recovering at home. This further impacts their mental health and extends their time off work."
"Through our investment in the Plus Social pilot, we supported injured workers by connecting them to a range of engaging 12-week programs to help aid their recovery – and assist with their return to work," said Ms Kahlau.
The icare Foundation Social Impact Report (2019) (written by Urbis) found that every dollar invested in the Plus Social social prescribing program delivered social and economic benefits worth $3.80.
Dr J.R. Baker, CEO at Primary and Community Care Services said, "It has been great to team up with icare to offer injured workers, who may be at risk of social isolation and diminished support, access to the benefits of social prescribing via the Plus Social program."
"We are proud of the program’s performance and the independent evaluation by Southern Cross University, which has shown Plus Social can significantly improve quality of life, readiness to work, social and emotional wellbeing, and health status for the majority of participants."
"Most importantly, Plus Social boasts 92 per cent participant satisfaction scores and we are grateful for the tremendous support the program has received from GPs, Primary Health Networks, psychologists, the NSW Mental Health Commission, and icare and its partners," said Dr Baker.
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) endorsed social prescribing in its November 2019 report, saying it can address key risk factors for poor health, including social isolation, unstable housing, multimorbidity and mental health problems. These factors are associated with low engagement in preventive activities and low levels of self-management for medical conditions.
The RACGP report also highlighted how 40 per cent of Australian GPs assist patients to address socio-economic factors linked to ill-health and frequently coordinated patients with social services or other community providers. Due to these factors, the RCAGP report concluded there is an appetite to build systems in Australia to increase social prescribing.
Ms Kahlau welcomed this acknowledgement of social prescribing and added, "As the Southern Cross University evaluation shows, the frequency of contact with health services fell from 56 per cent to 29 per cent for those who attended a Plus Social initiative. We believe this illustrates how innovative initiatives can support the Australian health system by focusing on treating the medical needs of injured workers, and at the same time addressing their holistic health."
In its summary of findings published by the Journal of Advances in Health and Behaviour Southern Cross University concluded Plus Social was associated with significant improvements in employment readiness and capacity to work. The University also said evidence showed the Plus Social initiative reduced health service utilisation.