Social Prescribing - why might doctors now be prescribing an art class or a walking group?

Posted 09.04.2019

Social Prescribing

Why might doctors now be prescribing an art class or a walking group?

Experts say that around half of GP appointments are not directly related to medical conditions. Social prescribing is a process of referring to non-clinical community support interventions to better connect people to their communities. As well as the benefits to a person’s confidence, mental health and peer support networks, social prescribing has also been proposed to cut the costs of managing patients with long-term conditions by 20% (Nesta, 2013).

Social prescribing is a community referral that allows clinical professionals to refer to community support/interventions.

So why is social prescribing important?

Not only do long term conditions and mental health conditions cost the NHS millions each year, but it has been evidenced that health is impacted most by environmental, social and economic factors, which is why inequalities in these areas can determine people’s risk of getting ill (Dahlgren and Whitehead, 1991).

Therefore, it is important to connect people more to what is going on in their localities to build upon their social and community networks, as well as helping people to gain steady and secure housing, stable finances, and to provide clear pathways to opportunities that could strengthen their position within the economy, such as employment and skills programmes.

Social prescribing can improve confidence, self-esteem, give a sense of control and empowerment; which in turn improves wellbeing, and reduces anxiety and depression and a reliance on primary and secondary care.

Building Better Opportunities (BBO) Stakeholder Managers work to link different departments together with the three strands of the BBO programme in order to ensure that pathways of support for vulnerable cohorts are interconnected between services, and that any gaps in service are identified to make sure that future provision addresses this need.

Referral pathways have already been built across varying sectors across the local authorities, recognising the impact that unemployment and social exclusion directly has upon a person’s health. The BBO programme helps to provide financial capability and resilience, remove barriers to employment and skills, as well as help people overcome their multiple and complex needs.

BBO Stakeholder Managers have recently been linking in with Care Coordinators who are the closest link to social prescribing and are based within GP practices. This role is set to increase as the NHS have plans to recruit 1,000 ‘link workers’ as part of the NHS Long Term Plan. The ‘link workers’ will be able to give people time to talk about what matters to them and support them to find suitable activities that are a better alternative to medication as part of a step change in the provision of ‘personalised care’. It is hoped that by 2023-24, social prescribers will be handling around 900,000 patient appointments a year.

As a result, alongside Public Health and DWP leads, the BBO Stakeholder Managers have presented to GPs on the link between Work and Health. This is to understand that sometimes the ‘sick note’ can be even more detrimental to a person’s health as unemployment increases psychological stressors and increases the likelihood of negative health behaviours such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and reduced physical activity. By reiterating to GPs that employment minimises harmful effects long term, reduces social isolation and poverty, and improves wellbeing and quality of life, it has been an effective reminder to health professionals of the benefit of social prescribing and the need to continuously consider health alongside other wider determinates.

Please contact the BBO Stakeholder Managers if you would like to discuss closer working and how the BBO programme can connect to other support service

Further reading

Nesta (2013) People Powered Health Programme
The People Powered Health programme ran between 2011 and 2013. It supported the design and delivery of innovative services for people living with long term health conditions.

Citizens Advice  Advice in practice: Understanding the effects of integrating advice in primary care settings
Citizens Advice commissioned this report to understand the role for advice in supporting patients within primary care settings, specifically looking at whether locating outreach advice within GP surgeries, or as part of social prescribing models, could help improve people’s health and wellbeing, help reduce some of the ‘non-clinical’ demand on health providers, and improve overall patient care.


BBO is having a significant impact on individual lives, supporting people to increase their confidence, independence and achieve their employment aspirations.

See what our participants have to say in these case studies …

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