Social Prescribing has been named one of ten NHS high impact actions in the General Practice Forward View which aims to improve patient care and access and invest in new ways of providing primary care. In an interview with The Times, Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health also pledged a £4.5 million fund towards this goal.
“Evidence has shown the potential benefits of approaches like social prescribing, which addresses people’s physical and mental wellbeing and has been shown to both improve patients’ quality of life and reduce pressure on other NHS services.” – Matt Hancock
But what is social prescribing?
Social prescribing is a non-clinical solution that helps support health and wellbeing for socioeconomic and psychosocial issues. These are often prescribed as an alternative to clinical solutions by healthcare professionals and regularly provided by the voluntary and community sector.
It allows individuals to take more ownership and control of their health and wellbeing which both benefits them, as well as overstretched clinical healthcare providers.
Social prescribing is also sometimes called ‘community referral’.
What are the benefits of social prescribing?
Benefits to patients
For individuals (particularly with mental health issues) social prescribing offers a much wider selection of treatments outside of the traditional medical options – which may not always offer the best solution. It empowers the individual to take control of their health and in theory, acts as a preventative solution. Studies have shown that social prescribing has notable positive effects on the state of the health and wellbeing of the patient.
Benefits to the NHS and beyond
Social prescribing not only enables patients to take control of their own health, it also takes the pressure off the NHS both in primary and secondary care.
A recent study from Westminster University has found…
- An average 25% reduction in demand for GP services following a social prescribing referral
- Up to 55% fall in demand for other secondary care services
- An average 24% fall in A&E attendance following referral
- An overall protective effect on service demand
- A £2.30 per £1 Social Return on Investment (SROI). SROI includes all stakeholders, not just the NHS, these could include the Department of Work and Pensions, Local Authorities and patients.
Examples of social prescribing services
There is a vast range of potential services that could fall under social prescriptions. A few examples may include:
- Yoga classes for a patient suffering from anxiety and needing an overall improvement in their wellbeing.
- A running group for a patient who is suffering from low-level depression and fatigue. The group offers social interaction, a sense of community and an energy boost from the exercise
- Peer support, where people who have experienced the same condition support each other.
How can we make widespread social prescribing a reality?
Social prescribing is by no means a new thing, it has been around since the 90s under different names. However, it is only recently that real traction is being gained.
We believe that increasing access to a shared infrastructure, giving access to social prescribing services will support this. Nearly half of all clinical commissioning groups across England are investing in social prescribing programs, but 40% of GPs said that would refer more if they had more information about the services available.
We can make this happen with 3 key steps.
1. Create a structured, up-to-date, searchable Service Finder (for example the search widget on myhealth.london.nhs.uk)
2. Available services mapped and tagged against social or clinical need
3. Information accessible through a common infrastructure across London
This will make a significant step toward achieving ‘social prescribing’ through which health and care professionals can leverage the impact of public services and the local and voluntary sectors.
Through this ‘once for London’ approach, led by the Mayor, London’s Councils and GP leaders could take concrete steps to improve the health and wellbeing of their population.