What exactly is social prescribing?

In this blog, our communications manager Josie Purcell takes a look into social prescribing. What is it and who can access it?

You may have heard the term social prescribing being spoken about in recent years. You may have even received it. But what is it exactly?

According to the Social Prescribing Network it is:

… a means of enabling GPs and other frontline healthcare professionals to refer patients to a link worker – to provide them with a face to face conversation during which they can learn about the possibilities and design their own personalised solutions, i.e. ‘co-produce’ their ‘social prescription’- so that people with social, emotional or practical needs are empowered to find solutions which will improve their health and wellbeing, often using services provided by the voluntary and community sector. It is an innovative and growing movement, with the potential to reduce the financial burden on the NHS and particularly on primary care.

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This alternative to traditional medical treatment enables people to choose the type of support they feel would most benefit their recovery such as taking part in arts sessions, gardening or sports.

In response to recommendations made by NHS England encouraging health and local government sectors to work together to offer social prescribing initiatives, the Chair of the Royal College of GPs Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said that it was “good news” that this option was becoming more used but “social prescribing is something that experienced GPs have always done – it just the actual term was not widely used until recently”.

Read more from Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard at:

I know that after a particularly challenging day, taking my dog for a walk and blowing the cobwebs away or working on my MA in Photography or photographic practice can really change my outlook and make me feel more positive and energised. To me it seems obvious that where non-medicinal intervention can safely provide the potential to help a person feel better, it should be on offer.

But how much choice will there be? And how does a business or voluntary group provide this service via the GP?

Download this interactive document explaining social prescribing and how it can be set up: Making sense of social prescribing 2017

In October 2017, Cornwall Live reported that a social prescribing initiative in St Austell, which included singing to help with chronic pain, had seen 94% of the 150 patients enrolled to that point saying their wellbeing had improved,  62% saying they had lost weight and some saying it had changed their lives.

Read the full article at:

But, given that our Accessing an Appointment with a GP report (due for publication soon) was initiated due to feedback we received from people struggling to get a GP appointment, it is interesting to read in an Economist article from last month that a review of social prescribing has shown that, on average, there was a 28% fall in GP visits and a 24% drop in attendance at emergency wards due to its use.

Read more at: 

Social prescribing may not be right for everyone – it’s obviously only relevant to certain issues, but surely having a choice in your treatment and working with your GP/health professional to determine what is right for you is a step towards minimising return visits and getting a person back to full health.

Fortunately, I don’t need to attend my doctor’s very often but, if I ever do in future, and if applicable, I hope I will have the opportunity to opt for a pastime rather than a pill.