Impact 101: What is social prescription? | The social enterprise magazine
What is social prescription?
Ingrid Abreu Scherer: Up to one in five UK patients see their GP [family doctor] for problems which are not exclusively or even mainly treated by medical treatment; researchers also found that about 80 to 90% of health outcomes are influenced by social factors.
Social prescribing is a way to connect some of these people with practical and emotional support in their communities and beyond. Sometimes this is done through ‘liaison workers’ – professionals who work with people to find out what matters to them personally, then connect them to community activities (and during Covid-19 to remote and digital services) that support their health and well-being. Potential funders of these in the UK include the NHS, local authorities, charitable trusts and foundations.
Social prescribing helps people take better control of their health care, manage their needs and in a way that is right for them. In particular, it can help people who:
- have one or more long-term conditions
- need support for their mental health
- are alone or isolated
- have complex social needs that affect their well-being.
When did social prescribing first appear and in what parts of the world is it used?
IAS: Social prescribing has existed in many forms across the world, but has gained momentum over the past decade.
Social prescribing as it is understood today first developed in the UK in the 1990s, when general practitioners at Bromley by Bow Health Partnership (which is a health-focused social enterprise ) launched a program to refer patients to in-house non-clinical expert services.
In 2021, there are social prescription initiatives in at least 17 countries
By 2021, there are social prescription initiatives in at least 17 countries. The specific components and implementation approaches vary across contexts, depending on national and community contexts.
In early 2021, the Global Alliance for Social Prescribing released the Global Guide to Social Prescribing, showcasing best practices from around the world and showing how social prescribing can support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 3, in order to to ensure health and well-being for all, at every stage of life. In all countries, the job titles for the new roles of social prescribers have been adapted to resonate with the local culture and people: “Liaison Work Team” in China, “Wellness Coordinator” in Singapore, ” community connector ”in Wales and“ wellness coach ”in the Netherlands. There are different names for it around the world, but what is transferable is that people are connected to their communities and their resources to address the social determinants of health.
What is the size of the social prescription “market”?
IAS: It’s not easy to answer, even in the UK, as healthcare budgets are used in very different ways across the country. However, the NHS is committed to expanding ‘personalized care’, and social prescribing is a major aspect of that.
In 2021, social prescription referrals quadrupled from the previous year to around 500,000, although there are still significant barriers to adoption. (For example, people living in disadvantaged communities were more likely to be referred through the social prescription, but less likely to accept the referral.)
One of the main strategic changes in the NHS long term plan is the commitment to increase social prescribing. So by 2023/24 every GP practice in England will have access to a Social Prescribing Liaison Worker, supporting a total of 900,000 people.
For what type of organizations is social prescription most relevant – and how can social enterprises get involved?
IAS: Organizations that can support health and wellness are particularly suited. These can be activities that connect people to each other in meaningful ways, volunteering, arts and culture, physical activity, and access to green spaces. Organizations that support learning, employment, housing and other basic needs of people are also very important, as are those that provide expert advice and support for specific health issues. Any UK organization can start by joining one of the “communities of practice” set up by the National Academy for Social Prescription.
Many social enterprises will already offer activities and support adapted to the social prescription model.
Many social enterprises will already offer activities and support that fit the social prescribing model. Whether you are a housing association, community theater, or volunteer run social club, your activities can help support health and wellness.
There are still many people who do not benefit from the social prescription for several reasons: there are waiting lists to see relays, their neighborhood does not have enough activities or the offer does not suit them. . Social enterprises could help tackle health inequalities by offering support to excluded groups.
What challenges should newcomers consider when providing social prescribing work?
IAS: A survey of the first 50 national organizations to join our Accelerating Innovation Community of Practice found that 74% were held back by lack of funding; 68% for lack of time and resources and 42% for lack of delivery partners for the service offered.
Getting funding is one of the biggest hurdles we hear. It is important to establish a budget that reflects all the costs involved, including the additional capacity needed to support vulnerable people.
However, it doesn’t always come down to fresh money. It is important for organizations to partner with others in one location to make the most of complementary skills and resources. Many organizations have connected people to their communities for years to support their health and wellness, but more formal support can help build this infrastructure.
It is also very important to be able to show that the activities you are proposing are working – and that they are making a difference in the parameters that funders and commissioners seek to change. These include reduced loneliness, increased well-being and confidence in managing conditions, as well as savings to the healthcare system through reduced GP visits.
How is it likely to evolve in the future? What factors will affect its growth or not?
IAS: The evidence for social prescribing continues to grow, and the NASP academic partnership strives to bring research together in a strong and useful way. We must continue to increase the evidence of what works by using common measures in evaluations.
We have learned a lot from the ideas tried during the Covid-19 pandemic which are likely to develop in the future. For example, digital activities or remote assistance, connecting people through technology, helping neighbors look out for each other, and the importance of local green spaces when people are stuck inside.
The NHS is committed to a personalized, place-based model of care, and social prescribing is part of this vision. However, the social prescription is as strong as the strength of civil society – and the charities and social enterprises that provide activities and support.
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