What is Social Prescribing?
Social prescribing is an emerging field for the NHS. But what is social prescribing really? Social prescribing can broadly be defined as a framework and process for linking residents with non-medical sources of support within the community. For this reason social prescribing is sometimes also called community referral. They can do so via for instance General Practices, voluntary organisations, local government or self-referral.
Supporting the vulnerable
The Goal of Social Prescribing
The goal of social prescribing is to empower individuals to take back control of their wellbeing and health. Services focus on what matters to the people. The service refers people to community organisations and services near to where they live. This way they can access activities that they can benefit from.
Social prescribing sets out to improve emotional, social and physical wellbeing via holistic means, often offered by local voluntary services. Examples are arts, gardening or running groups, befriending and cooking.
Social Prescribing across the Health and Social Care System
Social prescribing is designed as one of the six pillars of the NHS’s Universal Personalised Care. Social prescribing is intended to prevent non-clinical issues from becoming medical health problems. In addition, it supports General Practices and other commissioned services across localities.
Highlighting Social Prescribing
Five Year Forward View
The NHS’s Five Year Forward View highlighted the importance of social prescribing for wellbeing across the UK. In this strategy the NHS voiced its support for local models of social prescribing. These local models meant residents, patients and carers could access community-based support from their primary care facilities.
Social prescribing tied nicely into the wider prevention agenda of the NHS. Referring individuals to non-clinical services could address issues in a holistic way.
Social Prescribing for PCNs
Long Term Plan
NHS England’s Long Term Plan published in January 2019 has highlighted that Social Prescribing is a key element in the prevention workstream. The NHS stated that there will be funding available for social prescribing link workers (sometimes also named: health advisor, community connector or navigator) in every newly created Primary Care Network (PCN). They stated; “within five years over 2.5 million more people will benefit from social prescribing."
During COVID-19 the service has been used to a high degree to combat feelings of loneliness and isolation. The demand for social prescribing has grown greatly, and the government is increasingly seeing the value in the service as was shown by the
Evidence on effectiveness of social prescribing
Robust, definitive evidence is still lacking on the effectiveness of social prescribing in primary care. The assessment of effectiveness is hindered by poor quality evidence, with differences in how primary care delivers social prescribing, to whom and how outcomes are measured.
Effectiveness of social prescribing
Positive signs are emerging. According to the RCGP survey in 2018, 59% of family doctors stated they think that social prescribing can help reduce workload. Additionally, an evidence review from the University of Westminster, found studies reporting an average drop of 28% in demand on GP services following a referral to a social prescribing service.
Social Prescribing evidence
Better quality and more robust evaluation plans are needed moving forwards. For this reason, the Network Contract DES is explicit on what data collection is required and on the outcome measurements used.
Social Rx Connect can play an important role in this data collection process. This platform assists with sharing data reports.