Social Prescribing

Did you know that at least one in four patients see their doctor for pure social problems and welfare advice?  Imagine the time that could be freed up for GPs if patients could go elsewhere for help with these problems.  And this is where Social Prescribing comes into play.

Social prescribing is a way of not only reducing the need for clinical interventions, but also to allow patients to take the holistic approach to health, and for them to take great control of their own health.

So, what is it exactly?  GPs, nurses and other primary care professionals refer patients who have mental health issues, are lonely or isolated or who have complex social needs or long-term conditions to a link worker, which provides them with a face-to-face conversation during which they can learn about opportunities to improve their health and wellbeing.  Link workers tend to be provided by the voluntary and community sector, which might be run by the council or a local charity.  Examples of social prescribing schemes include cookery classes, choirs, volunteering, sports and exercise groups, gardening, arts activities and group learning.

Social prescribing has been shown to improve quality of life and emotional wellbeing, mental and general wellbeing, as well as improving levels of depression and anxiety.

And it doesn’t just benefit the patient – it allows GPs to better their support for the increasing number of patients suffering from chronic diseases.  NHS England has backed social prescribing and community-based support as part of the NHS Long-Term Plan’s commitment to make personalised care business as usual across the health and care system. In their report, NHS England reported that 59% of GPs think social prescribing can help reduce their workload.  So, whilst there is still research to be carried out to prove the effectiveness of social prescribing it seems it is being recognised as beneficial to patients and primary care.

Social prescribing is an ever-growing movement, and is supported by Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock, who’s ambitions is for every patient in the country to have access to social prescribing schemes on the NHS as readily as they do medical care.  The National Academy for Social Prescribing  is a new independent academy that has been set up to support social prescribing as well as raising awareness of its benefits.  It will receive £5 million of government funding and will be led by Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, the outgoing Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners.  Read more here.

In the next article of our series on Social Prescribing, we will look at social prescribing projects in our local area of Oxford. If you know of any or are part of any, please do get in touch, we’d love to chat to you about it!

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