Brighton project aims to tackle healthcare inequality

70 per cent of ill health is attributed to social and economic factors, according to a 2010 review.

Astonishing, isn’t it? In the age of consultations by Skype, prescriptions by post and whistleblowers lifting the lid on chilling abuse, the social side of health and social care risks evaporating into wishful thinking.

But a promising remedy to this parched and thirsty area is growing in cities around the UK, a form of “social prescribing” which connects and empowers patients with physical and mental health conditions, as well as financial or employment difficulties, through advice, volunteering and support groups. Brighton and Hove Impetus has been delivering community navigation since 2014, and service manager Clair Rowe considers the idea to have huge potential.

“Social prescribing is becoming a trend,” she says earnestly above the typical hubbub of an urban coffee shop. “It’s getting embedded into policy locally and nationally, national NHS have picked it up, ministers are interested in it, so that’s why we’re hearing more and more and more about it.”

But how does it work?

In short, you can be referred to the service by your GP, perhaps as an alternative to medication or clinical therapies. At a variety of places – the GP surgery, a library or the comfort of your own home – you’ll be visited by a community navigator, half of whom are specially-trained volunteers with backgrounds in supporting others, while the other half are experienced staff. After conducting an initial assessment to get to know the client’s wants and needs, the navigator can suggest and put them in touch with places that offer support. Crucially, with money (or the lack of it) being a hot topic in healthcare, community navigators are free of charge.

It’s an exciting innovation, but the efforts of charities like Impetus are hindered by lack of space. Clair says: “Surgeries are increasingly coming together, some are closing down. Room availability is a thing now. It didn’t used to be so much. They’re so packed, you know, they’ve turned them all into clinical rooms.”

In light of this, Brighton and Hove Impetus is launching a new pilot scheme – a drop-in version of the community navigation service available in two libraries to the east and west of the city. Unlike the regular appointments, prospective clients don’t need a referral, and they’ll run once a fortnight. As well as on-the-spot advice, members of the public can also arrange to have a one-to-one confidential appointment with a navigator in the future.

It’s an exciting next step in making an already flexible programme even more accessible.

“The key thing that makes it work is the relationship between the navigator and the person,” says Clair. “There’s a huge amount of encouragement, support — basically, they’re making changes in their lives. How do we all feel when we’re making changes in our lives?”

The community navigation drop-ins will run from 2-5pm every two weeks. The sessions started at Hangleton Library on Thursday, January 17, and Whitehawk Library on Tuesday, January 22. More information about the service, as well as other services Brighton and Hove Impetus has to offer, can be found at


This article was originally published in The Brighton Wire.