You may have recently heard the word social prescribing coming up in the news. From the use of the arts to help those struggling with mental health including the possibility of using comedians to help those with trauma. But what is social prescribing and how could it help you? Here, we get the full-down on social prescribing from Bev Taylor, Director of Strategy, National Academy for Social Prescribing and why this latest form of lifestyle medicine might be coming to prescribed to you by your GP sometime soon….
What is a social prescription and when is it generally used?
Social prescribing changes lives. It connects people to practical and emotional community support, through social prescribing link workers, who are based in GP practices and take referrals from all local agencies. Link workers have time to build trusting relationships, start with what matters to the person, create a shared plan and introduce people to community support.
Link workers give people time, focusing on ‘what matters to me’ and taking a holistic approach to people’s health and wellbeing. They connect people to community groups and sources of advice, practical and emotional support. A social prescription helps people get more control over their health and wellbeing, to manage their needs and in a way that suits them. It can especially help people who:
- have one or more long-term condition
- need support with their mental health
- are lonely or isolated
- need extra help to make community connections
- have complex social needs which affect their wellbeing.
The NHS has committed to connecting people to activities in the community that help them manage their health and wellbeing. The National Academy for Social Prescribing exists to ensure these activities are supported, celebrated and able to support people’s needs.
How can it improve our health?
There is emerging evidence that social prescribing can lead to a range of positive health and wellbeing outcomes for people, such as improved quality of life and emotional wellbeing.
Many things affect our health and wellbeing – finances, access to green space, what’s going on at home, to name a few.1 in 5 appointments booked with GPs are for essentially non-medical reasons. These include issues such as loneliness, social isolation, debt, housing issues and relationships. [Source: A very general practice: How much time do GPs spend on issues other than health? – Citizens Advice]
People may talk to their GP because they may be feeling stressed about their work, money, or because they are lonely and isolated. The impact that these issues can have on our physical and mental wellbeing has been particularly clear as the nation responds to COVID19.
But these problems cannot be fixed by medicine, or doctors, alone. That’s where a social prescription comes in. Social prescribing connects people to practical and emotional community support, through social prescribing link workers, who are based in GP practices and take referrals from all local agencies. Link workers have time to build trusting relationships, start with what matters to the person, create a shared plan and introduce people to community support.
Activities such as those connected with the arts, or natural environment, or engaging in exercise or sport can help us to maintain and build relationships, unlock our strengths, to have choice and control and to find constructive and helpful activities within our community.
How can it improve our enjoyment of life?
Everyone will gain from being asked the question ‘what matters to you?’ Social prescribing link workers help those people who need extra support to make community connections. They introduce people to community groups and practical support. They follow-up to ensure that people are included and getting the support they need. Having someone to help us deal with poor housing and money worries can be a real life saver. It can be positive to be out in the community, doing things, learning new skills, and meeting new people. All of these add to our enjoyment of life.
What could a social prescription include?
Social prescribing links people to a range of activities that are typically provided by voluntary and community sector organisations, for example, debt counselling, housing advice, volunteering, arts activities, group learning, gardening, befriending, cookery, healthy eating advice and a range of sports.
What are some examples of social prescription?
- Reading Voluntary Action – Wild Being – An extensive programme of arts, culture, nature, physical activity and life advice for 300 people including pop up arts, English language conversations, and gardening.
- Robin Hood Health Foundation Prescribe to Thrive Partnership – Tailored social prescribing to reach 100 residents to improve physical and mental health and wellbeing, alongside support for artists and creatives.
- Argyle Community Trust Green Social Prescribing – A health and wellbeing programme in Central Park, Plymouth, to enhance use and enjoyment of green space and green social prescribing.
- Canal & River Trust – Nottingham & Beeston Canal – The Canal & River Trust will lead partners will use the natural asset of the Nottingham & Beeston Canal to provide physical activity, art, heritage and food-based activities, reaching c.430 people.
- Heeley Development Trust – Happier Healthier Heeley Plus – A range of creative, green and physical activities to help people reconnect – including bicycle powered Shakespeare.
- Sunderland Culture Sunderland Social Prescribing Partnership – High-quality creative social prescribing activities for carers and their families including doorstep delivery, men’s shed, outdoor volunteering and singing for lung health.
How do we go about getting a social prescription?
In 2019 the NHS introduced social prescribing link workers as part of the NHS infrastructure, which acknowledged what was already happening in some places. They were introduced in primary care networks, as part of the multidisciplinary teams within the practice team.
When social prescribing works well, people can be easily referred to link workers within their GP practice. People can also refer themselves.
There are many opportunities for people to access community activities directly, but the social prescribing link worker role is crucial for those unable to connect for themselves, or facing barriers to achieving their health and wellbeing goals; or perhaps lacking skills, knowledge or confidence.