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A top GP in Hackney has revealed changes in the way substance misuse is being approached locally, offering a glimpse into the future of primary care in the borough.

Laura Sharpe, CEO of City & Hackney GP Confederation, described what the plans for carving Hackney up into GP-centred ‘Neighbourhoods’ might mean in practice for residents.

One of the first practical changes brought in under the eight new Neighbourhoods, which will each encompass between 30,000 and 50,000, are being unofficially referred to as ‘alcohol hubs’, decentralising counselling provided by the Hackney Drug and Alcohol Action Team on Mare Street.

Sharpe said: “If a GP is worried about somebody’s level of drinking, the service offer at the moment is that you’re referred to the substance misuse service on Mare Street.

“Can you imagine for people whose drinking is a little out of the norm who don’t view themselves as addicts, they don’t view themselves as wanting to go to that sort of service, so they decline it.

“Now, it’s ‘Go and have a chat with the healthy living counsellor, she’s in the surgery down the road on Tuesday afternoon.’ People are much more amenable to that.”

It is understood that eight practices now set aside half a day a week to be a place where an alcohol worker will travel into the borough from Mare Street.

Locals can now be referred to a ‘healthy living counsellor’ at one of the practices, chiming with the general Neighbourhood plan of to make areas large enough to provide services at scale, while remaining small enough to understand and respond to specific health and care needs within each area.

The Neighbourhoods programme is also expected to see thirty ‘social prescribers’ put in place over the next five years, by which patients can be referred to a range of local agencies including social care services, housing associations or job centres.

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