What Is Social Prescribing and What Are The Benefits?

This is a guest blog, written by Umma Kadiri, Year 12



Social prescribing involves the referral of patients to a range of non-clinical services in the patient’s local community to improve patient health and wellbeing, by healthcare professionals such as GPs, nurses and other healthcare professionals. One of the main objectives of social prescribing is to tackle loneliness, described as “one of the greatest public health problems of all time” by Theresa May, as a loneliness strategy document published by the government in 2018 revealed that one to five people per day suffering from loneliness are seen by GPs, increasing the strain on GP services, and 200,000 elderly people haven’t had a conservation with a friend or a relative in over a month [1]. Featured in the NHS’ Long term plan [2] (published 7th January 2019), social prescribing also aims to reduce growing demand for GP services (312 million made in 2019) [3], including 50% of appointments based on social problems [4], with average wait times of 2 weeks.

Due to several social factors that could cause a detrimental impact on a person's health and wellbeing including finances, household problems, issues at work, etc., many people visit their GP with a range of conditions, such as anxiety, obesity and depression [5], but often the root of these problems can be resolved by lifestyle changes and support from local community groups. If a GP feels that a patient has a problem that would benefit from a social prescription more than medication, the patient is referred to a link worker in the local community, who can work with the patient to prescribe an activity aimed to specifically address the patient’s needs. By allowing patients to take more responsibility for their healthcare, it encourages patients to make more decisions that will have a positive impact on their health, increasing the chance of improved health outcomes.

A patient with mild depression, because they feel isolated and lonely, could benefit more from a social prescription of joining a local community group (e.g. a walking group, gardening club or a volunteer committee), than a prescription of antidepressants, which are only effective in the short term [6]. Activities such as volunteering, have been proven by many studies to have a majorly positive impact on improving the health and wellbeing of patients, as people feel more valued and more cheerful in the long run. Likewise, for patients diagnosed with long term conditions such as obesity and type 2 diabetes, patients could benefit from local cooking classes to learn cheap and healthy recipes instead of relying on ready-meals and unhealthy fast food [7], which could prevent other long term conditions developing as well as improving their health

Social prescribing has led to a reduction of 28% in GP appointments and 24% in A&E attendance, due to the decreasing demand for primary and secondary care services, as less repeat GP appointments and outpatient admissions are made because people are given more responsibility to manage their health. Social prescriptions not only reduce the strain on primary and secondary care services, but they reduce the reliance patients have on medical prescriptions [8], which the NHS spends around £8.8bn [9] on dispensing per year. 

As social prescribing is an important feature on the NHS’ “New Personalised Care Model” (published November 2018) [10], different models of social prescribing exist across England to match the needs of different demographics that vary across England, to increase the chances of people finding an enjoyable activity that will improve their mental health and wellbeing in the long run.

Despite the many benefits of social prescribing, patients undergoing a social prescribing scheme should be made aware the long term benefits of social prescribing aren't initially evident, so they don't lose interest in the scheme. To further encourage engagement, linkworks should ensure the devised plan matches the patient's needs. However, the benefits of social prescribing outweigh the challenges, as the Prime Minister has pledged all GPs will be able to use social prescribing for patients suffering from loneliness instead of resulting to traditional medicines by 2023, as well as recruiting 1000 more link workers by the end of 2021.

In conclusion, I believe that social prescribing has had a substantially positive impact, as it has not only improved the mental health and wellbeing of patients, but it also has the potential to significantly reduce the number of people from suffering from preventable long term conditions, improving the quality of life of many people. Social prescribing will also have a significantly positive impact on the NHS, as it will alleviate the cost of the NHS providing care to patients that could benefit from social prescribing, and this money can be used for research and innovation to improve the quality of care for all.


References

[1]How social prescribing can benefit patients and prescribers

[2]Social prescribing models | Public Health

[3]https://archive.bma.org.uk/collective-voice/influence/key-negotiations/nhs-pressures/pressures-in-general-practice

[4]https://www.england.nhs.uk/2019/01/army-of-workers-to-support-family-doctors/

[5]What is social prescribing?

[6]https://patient.info/news-and-features/what-is-social-prescribing

[7]https://returntowellness.co.uk/2018/11/14/social-prescribing-by-doctors/

[8]https://www.bma.org.uk/media/1496/bma-social-prescribing-guidance-2019.pdf

[9]https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/prescription-cost-analysis/2018

[10]https://www.rcn.org.uk/clinical-topics/public-health/self-care/social-prescribing/social-prescribing-models

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