Health

Covid destroyed my mental health and I lost everything – but discovering boxing turned my life around

Craig McLundie was helped out of a mental health crisis by an outcomes contract that supported him into boxing. Social investor Better Society Capital thinks the model could give the stretched health service a £1.9bn boost

Craig McLundie benefitted from social prescribing, so could the NHS

Social prescribing helped Craig McLundie to win his mental health fight and raise more than £1,500 in a charity boxing match. Image: Supplied

Craig McLundie was relying heavily on the NHS to help him through a mental health crisis after contracting Covid. But it was social prescribing that helped him turn his life around, and new research suggests the model could generate £1.9bn for the stretched health service.

Outcomes contracts focus on prevention with local charities and social enterprises delivering services aimed at reducing the future risk of social problems and the need for future healthcare and other government support.

New research from social investor Better Society Capital found the method of public service delivery which enables prevention could save the taxpayer £507m in fiscal value if it is adopted more widely.

It has already reduced demand on the heath service with a total saving of £128.6m for a £26.63m cost to the commissioner, the report from ATQ Consultants found.

Aman Johal, managing director at Better Society Capital said: “This research proves what we have known from individual projects – these contracts not only deliver meaningful change in communities and prevent social problems where complex needs exist, but also save the taxpayer considerable money.

“The next government has the opportunity to safely transform key areas of public services with trustworthy delivery partners, who not only know their local communities but also operate with no up-front cost.

“Furthermore, this is an approach that is highly measured compared to other types of commissioning, which can provide new data and evidence to support overall public service reform.”

The research has been given the backing of former prime minister Gordon Brown, who said: “Meeting unmet needs while using unmet resources is what makes a finance minister happy and sharing a spotlight on unclaimed assets was an important mission for me both as chancellor and prime minister. Outcomes contracts deliver public services through third sector organisations and the taxpayer only puts up cash for high-quality, well-targeted services.

“This report shows the great impact that this approach is making on complex, entrenched issues such as children’s services and homelessness, but there is much more to do. I hope this report will encourage investors and policymakers to scale up support of Better Society Capital’s important mission”

The number of people off sick due to long-term health conditions soared following the pandemic, according to the Office for National Statistics, with 2.8 million people now affected.

That was the case for university worker Mclundie, 46, from Northamptonshire.

He “lost everything” when his mental health declined in late 2020 after a bout of Covid, forcing him out of work as well as leading to the end of his relationship and to selling his house.

“I was just at home, feeling very isolated, very depressed,” said McLundie.

Things transformed in April 2023 when he was put in touch with Spring – a social prescriber in Northamptonshire.

They invited him along to the Mindful Art Group which offered him a chance to connect with people and undertake meditation and mindfulness.

That paved the way for him to take on a phased return to work and try new things: he joined his local tennis club before finding his real passion in boxing with the Frank Bruno Foundation.

The two-hour training sessions, which mixed boxing workouts with mental health support, helped McLundie to boost his mental and physical fitness to such a degree that he was able to manage his anxiety to return to work full-time and even reverse existing pre-diabetes.

Winning his mental health battle even inspired him to take on a charity boxing match in April this year, raising more than £1,500.

“Boxing teaches you the combination of controlling our emotions and keeping really fit and training regularly,” said McLundie, who described his experience as “life changing”.

“It gives you a rush. But also you have to be mentally quite fit to do it because there’s nothing quite like being faced with someone else who wants to hit you. It strengthens your mental health as well as your physical health and there is the camaraderie too.

“It gives you a purpose, it gives you a real focus. When I was really poorly and off work doing nothing, I had no purpose. That exacerbates the mental health issues because you don’t feel worthwhile. You don’t feel like you are a valued member of society because you are just draining resources. My confidence was ridiculously low.

“When you’re training for combat, you’re learning skills that are useful in society, certainly controlling your emotions and being fit and healthy. These are good things to have.”

The experience has convinced McLundie that social prescribing can do more to prevent others needing intensive NHS support and reduce the strain the health service has been under in recent times.

He added: “When I was really poorly, I was using a lot of NHS resources. I was using the hospital, I was using different treatments and obviously it impacted on my family and my kids. 

“I think maybe social prescribing could have been implemented a lot earlier.

“I think the NHS can’t do it all and they’re limited with their resources but social prescribing was brilliant.”

YouGov polling found health was the second biggest issue for voters behind the cost of living ahead of the general election and parties have been laying out their plans for the NHS.

The Big Issue’s blueprint for change is calling for the next government to invest in the NHS and social care workforce, with focus on recruitment and retention.

Big Issue is demanding an end to poverty this general election. Will you sign our open letter to party leaders?

The Big Issue’s social investment arm, Big Issue Invest, has also run an Outcomes Investment Fund in recent years.

ATQ Consultant’s report found the model has had an impact on healthcare in places like north-east Lincolnshire, for example. Community-led service Thrive worked with 1,500 people in the region and reduced hospital attendance and costs by 35% while also slashing GP usage by 11%.

Thrive is one of the social prescribing programmes supported by Better Society Capital and delivered by Bridges Fund Management – which has worked with more than 50 outcomes partnerships across the UK.

Overall, the report shows that outcomes-commissioned projects have generated £1.9bn of total value to the taxpayer, including through positive improvements to society like improved health, reduced crime or helping people with mental health issues into work.

This value was generated at a cost to government of £217m, which is only paid after pre-agreed delivery outcomes are met.

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? Get in touch and tell us moreBig Issue exists to give homeless and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income. To support our work buy a copy of the magazine or get the app from the App Store or Google Play.

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