Social prescribing across the world

Social prescribing is emerging as a potential solution for reducing strain on healthcare across the globe. From Ireland to Australia to the UK, healthcare is starting to notice the benefits to prescribing non-clinical interventions.

Signs of social prescribing becoming a global movement have emerged over the last several years. A great example was the world’s first International Social Prescribing Day in 2019. Though an overarching focus, the way social prescribing is implemented differs per country. We’re discussing some examples below.

United Kingdom

Social prescribing existed in many different forms and under many different names before the term social prescribing became a part of the NHS vocabulary. The NHS Five Year Forward View of 2014 saw a greater focus on preventative care and the efforts of voluntary organisations. The NHS Long-Term Plan that followed in 2019 amped up its focus on personalised care and has – through, amongst other efforts, social prescribing – initiated a shift in non-medical help.

Nowadays social prescribing is increasingly becoming a vital part of primary care with three fully funded roles for social prescribing. The COVID-19 pandemic has further shown the value of social prescribing link workers and has propelled the service forward with over 1,200 link workers in place today.


Social prescribing, similar to the UK has started embracing social prescribing and made it a part of their healthcare service. The public health service HSE in Ireland offers social prescribing as a free service for anyone 18 years and over.

Ireland offers an initial conversation with a Social Prescribing Coordinator. Via this conversation an appropriate community group is chosen. Healthcare professionals, like GPs, can refer people into social prescribing, though self-referral is available as well.


Interesting developments are taking place for social prescribing in Australia. Looking to countries like Canada and the UK, and its effectiveness following pilots, a debate has been raised about making social prescribing a part of Australian healthcare.

A roundtable in November 2019 by the Consumers Health Forum of Australia, Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, and NHMRC Partnership Centre for Health System Sustainability discussed social prescribing as a part of the Australian healthcare system. Conclusion of this roundtable was that social prescribing could serve as an opportunity to improve health outcomes.

Though still in its infancy, social prescribing services have started to arise at several places across Australia.


In 2019 Canada piloted their ‘Rx: Community – Social Prescribing in Ontario’, a project set out to reveal the impact of social prescribing, which had promising results showing an improvement in the health of socially-prescribed people.

Since the pilot, social prescribing has become better known in Canada though centralised social prescribing schemes are currently not set up.

In February 2021, The College of Family Physicians of Canada published an article in their journal raising a call to action on social prescribing. The authors, Dominik Alex Nowak and Kate Mulligan, argue in favour of social prescribing becoming a part of the Canadian primary care system.

The Netherlands

Social prescribing has popped up in the Netherlands as well. A national knowledge network ‘Welzijn op Recept’ (which translates to ‘social prescribing’) is steering the conversation in non-clinical interventions across healthcare.

According to this national network, initial findings have revealed a reduction in GPs’ workload and an improvement in quality of life for people who are referred into the service.

Once referred in a person is sent to a Wellbeing Coach, who – like a link worker – assesses the needs of an individual and finds an appropriate service. From there voluntary and community groups offers the much-needed help for psychosocial issues.

Social prescribing is rolled out on a municipal basis and the uptake has been widespread though it’s not been taken up nationally yet. The network is continuing to promote the service to the public.

How does it compare to the UK?

Many of the schemes put in place follow a similar pattern to that of the UK: trying to bring the different communities involved in social prescribing together. There’s a high emphasis on trying to bring social prescription into the healthcare system, in particular primary care, via a personalised approach.

Many of the countries seem to look to existing social prescribing schemes and their outcomes. Nations are finding those schemes that prove successful and adapt it to fit with the national or local culture and system.

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