The National Report from Ireland – conclusions of Dublin City University

Dublin City University (DCU) is a relatively young university.  It was established in 1989 to meet industry needs and promote enterprise.  We currently have over 19,000 students and circa 2,000 staff.  From the outset, DCU was a pioneering university; we established an access programme to encourage students from socially disadvantaged communities and introduced a mandatory third-year industry placement for all students in all disciplines.  Always looking to the future, DCU identified demographic change as a global challenge and, in 2012, launched the 10 Principles of Age-Friendly University (AFU).  These principles embody best practices for widening participation and promoting age inclusivity in higher education.  It offers older people opportunities to engage in education, research, wellness, and cultural and social activities at the university.  Since 2012 the AFU has grown into a global network of over 100 Age-Friendly Universities representing Europe, North and South America, South East Asia and Australia coordinated by DCU.

Ireland’s national health care provider, the Health Service Executive, has a wealth of experience based on robust research in leading social prescribing initiatives throughout the country.  This advanced knowledge, coupled with the expertise of Dublin City University, made the Culture on Prescription Europe (COPE) Erasmus project a natural fit for DCU and very much aligned with the ethos, culture and age-friendly principles of DCU.  Art and Culture are recognised within the university and at a broader national level, through Creative Ireland, as an essential outlet and opportunity to support a better quality of life, improve mental well-being and offer crucial social outlets.

DCU was tasked with leading the first project output by creating a compendium for the Culture on Prescription project that will include an overview of the national reports from all project partners.  It has been a fascinating experience, introducing us to a wide variety of practices in social prescribing, culture and art offerings to support health and mental well-being and ageing.  In the global context, while relatively new, social prescribing is experiencing exponential growth and is being adopted in a wide variety of ways.  From walking groups in the United Kingdom to social groups for fathers in Canada to classes for making medical masks in South Korea, there are no limitations to the variety of offerings on prescription.

While examining Ireland in closer detail, it became apparent that social prescribing is more advanced here than in other countries.  There is a national commitment from our government, our national health services and communities across the country that has supported the development of a robust framework for the delivery of social prescribing.  Despite the variety of offerings in all formats of social prescribing, there are certain consistencies and recognised best practices that we have also adopted in Ireland.  The need for engagement with medical professionals and a dedicated prescriber to support a robust and consistent service that offers continuity and suitable prescribing for the patient is recognised and included in most social and cultural prescribing forms and is central to the Irish framework.  The primary focus of social and cultural prescribing is to address the patient’s needs.  In supporting the social concerns of patients, health and well-being are often improved.  When successful, patients become engaged at a local level and become more independent and continue to engage meaningfully without the need for additional support.  In some general medical practices (GP) in Ireland, this has resulted in a 50% drop in GP visits in some instances.  In the UK, social prescribing has saved £400 million per annum resulting in a 28% reduction in GP demand, a 24% reduction in visits to Emergency Departments and a 64% drop in hospital referrals.
On August 26th, DCU welcomed 250+ older people onto our campus to offer a ‘taste’ of the range of opportunities available in our Age-Friendly University.  This event, launched by DCU President Prof. Daire Keogh, showcased the Culture on Prescription Erasmus project to a very enthusiastic and supportive audience, with many expressing an interest in participating and following the project.  Despite the advancement of social prescribing in Ireland, this is still a relatively new offering, and there is a need to inform and educate more on this concept and process.  DCU was delighted to harness this platform and the Culture on Prescription Erasmus project as an opportunity to do so.

Photos included left to right, clockwise: Christine O’Kelly Co-Ordinator of the AFU Global Network and DCU AFU, Prof. Daire Keogh President of DCU, Culture on Prescription Lecture for Taste of DCU, Guest Students of DCU.