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College of Medicine patron HRH The Prince of Wales praises ‘pioneering’ social prescribing project in Cornwall

The College of Medicine’s patron, HRH the Prince of Wales, and the Duchess of Cornwall have praised a social prescribing team at a GP practice in Cornwall, after a flying visit there this week.

His Royal Highness visited St Austell Healthcare, part of the South West Academic Health Science Network’s Institute for Social Prescribing, and praised the centre’s swift reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic, including re-launching their app, Help at Hand, just days after lock-down was announced.

On July 21st, Prince Charles and the Duchess experienced first-hand the work of the social prescribing team at the busy practice, hearing how it switched focus during the peak of the outbreak, working with local organisations to ensure trained volunteers supported the Cornish town’s most vulnerable people.

Speaking outside the practice after a short tour, HRH said it was ‘most heartening’ to see healthcare professionals prescribing non-medical treatments to help treat common lifestyle conditions. 

HRH The Prince of Wales pictured meeting staff at St Austell Healthcare in West Cornwall (Picture: Twitter/@GinaRhiannon)

He said the team in St Austell are: “…living proof, if it was ever needed, that beyond our conventional medicines and procedures there are so many other interventions that can contribute to our health and healing.

“The work that you are doing here with an emphasis on the psychosocial as well as the biomedical, mobilising the whole community and exploring the limits of how we can help each other, is surely a lesson to us all.

“I can only say that what I have seen and heard today gives me enormous hope for the future.” 

While the royal couple couldn’t experience a full tour of the facilities because of social distancing measures in place, the Prince and Duchess did meet with a small number of the organisation’s volunteers and staff – around 30 – to hear how social prescribing is an effective part of wider primary care within the St Austell community.

St Austell is one of five ‘test beds’ rapidly sharing learning and insight on their work in the community through the Institute for Social Prescribing. The Institute was created in 2019 to bring together researchers, policy makers and social prescribing practitioners to spread innovative practice in social prescribing.

The College of Medicine Chair, Michael Dixon, who is also Chair of the Institute for Social Prescribing with the South West Academic Science Network, said: “It is a tremendous credit to the work of St Austell Healthcare and social prescribing link workers across the South West that the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall have chosen to honour their work today.

Dr Dixon added: “General practitioners across the country have increasingly recognised the value of social prescribing to improve health and wellbeing of their patients. Their collective and practical dedication has been a lifeline for many communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Dr Stewart Smith, GP partner at St Austell Healthcare, said:”The visit by the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall is fantastic recognition of the efforts made by social prescribing link workers at the practice and other local organisations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We look forward to continuing our efforts to grow and develop the ways that we as a GP surgery further integrate activities within the community to support health and well-being.”

An interim insight report on the wider work of the Institute for Social Prescribing during the initial phase of COVID-19, including highlights from all five test bed sites, can be found here.