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One small change: A non-consultant hospital doctor on how to make Ireland’s health system better

Dr Aoife Kirk says all GPs should introduce social prescribing into their practice

As our health system begins to return to normal activity levels following the Covid-19 pandemic, we would like to hear from doctors, nurses, paramedics, medical secretaries, hospital porters, canteen staff and others about one change they would like to see in our health system.

It can be something simple that annoys you, day in, day out, that is easily fixed, or it can be a small change in practice or attitude that would make life easier for everyone.

Dr Aoife Kirk

(Non-consultant hospital doctor and member of Irish Doctors for the Environment)

“Current estimates suggest that one fifth of GP visits reflect social rather than medical problems. So, the one small change I would like to see in the Irish healthcare system is that all GPs introduce social prescribing into their practice.

“Social prescribing links patients with community based activities that can be of benefit to their mental and physical health. Activities can range from joining a walking club (or committing to daily walks by yourself or with friends), reading specific books or joining a reading group in your local library, gardening or taking up a new hobby.

“During the Covid-19 pandemic, health practitioners saw a rise in loneliness and mental health problems. If GP surgeries had a database of community activities that patients could choose from, this would go some distance to alleviating some of these issues.

“Interaction with new people and partaking in new activities can be beneficial to people of all ages, and studies have shown that social prescribing can improve mental wellbeing, physical health as well as reducing social isolation and loneliness.

“Gardening in allotments, partaking in beach clean-ups or simply walking in parks and woodlands brings people closer to their local environment which increases their connection with nature and gives them a greater sense of belonging. This more holistic way of approaching non-medical problems that patients come to their doctor with could be a transformative step in our healthcare system.”

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