Payment advice and Pilates not pills - Hertfordshire GPs lead the way with alternative prescriptions

Prescribe gardening and exercise not pills - words from Matt Hancock, the new Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, at a national NHS conference last week. 

In his first major speech, the Health Minister backed the NHS getting more patients into exercise or social activities rather than prescribing them drugs. 

On the same day, (Thursday 6 September), these comments were echoed at the Annual General Meeting for East and North Hertfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group, the organisation which plans and pays for most of the area’s health services.  The meeting, which took place at the Fielder centre in Hatfield, was attended by over 120 local residents, GPs, social care staff, councillors, voluntary groups and charities.

Often described as ‘social prescribing’ – replacing medication with practical support is a relatively simple idea which can change lives.   It’s estimated that about 20% of GP time is spent with people whose lifestyle, loneliness or worries around debts, benefits, or housing is making them ill.

In a passionate speech from Dr Marie-Anne Essam, a Hertfordshire GP, attendees heard some real life examples of how social prescribing can make a real difference to patients’ lives. A lot of work is done with the help of specialist ‘Community Navigators’, who work with the advice organisation HertsHelp to help people to maintain their independence, health and wellbeing.

Dr Prag Moodley, a Stevenage GP and Chair of East and North Herts Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “This was my first public event as Chair of East and North Hertfordshire CCG and I am pleased it was so successful and engaging for our residents.

“We are in a strong position here and have some great partnerships that are helping meet the health challenges our residents face. Through these partnerships we are raising awareness of community-based health and wellbeing schemes and referring patients to exercise classes and weight loss and stop smoking schemes.”

The AGM was a chance to look back at what has been happening across East and North Hertfordshire over the last year, including the CCG’s ‘Outstanding’ rating from NHS England, the 70th birthday of the NHS, improvements to NHS 111 and how we’re doing things differently to get the best value from the medicines and drugs that are prescribed.  Alongside the social prescribing workshop was a session about how GP practice workforces are changing to help meet demand.

If you, or someone you know, would benefit from support to get help from community organisations, then contact HertsHelp. They can be reached by visiting, calling 0300 123 4044 or emailing