Social Prescribing – What this means for us and the Primary Care communities we work with

Following on from the recent announcement of our upcoming Social Prescribing blended learning programme, Jenny Catling from parent company, Here, talks about the impact Social Prescribing will have on our communities.

Social Prescribing – An alternative to conventional medicine

Recently, the BBC published an article about the NHS England’s plan to initiate a recruitment drive, which will be focussed around employing link workers or ‘social prescribers’, aimed at easing GP workloads. The article also commented on the benefits of social prescribing, describing its ability to grant primary care patients a ‘new lease of life’ and how, in some cases, it can be a better alternative to conventional medicine.

Social prescribing is becoming an increasingly important movement amongst the primary care community, both locally here in Sussex and across the UK. The Practice Unbound team are continuously seeking ways to support general practice to put patients in the driving seat of their own health whilst making working life easier (and more sustainable) for hardworking GPs and practice staff across the country.

Recognising the link between physical and mental health

So, an initiative that supports a culture of individual, holistic and preventative health empowerment is a very welcome move on the part of NHS England. As a healthcare innovation hub, we are passionate about working with General Practice in a way that supports them to enable people to live well (whatever living well means for them) in order to address general health, wellbeing and resilience in communities.

This means paying attention to the link between physical and mental health and addressing social factors that affect lifestyle – from diet and sleep to isolation and loneliness. So, help could range from advice and guidance around nutrition and sleep hygiene to signposting community art classes and exercise groups.

Empowering patients to take control of their own health

GPs may notice where a lifestyle change could benefit a person’s health and wellbeing, making suggestions and giving encouragement accordingly.  However, it can be a fine line to tread as, despite its name, social prescribing is often less prescriptive than medical prescribing and GPs do not have a long time to explore and discuss options with people.  

Some GP practices are connected with a community navigator (employed by a third sector organisation), who can signpost and provide guidance for patients who are in need of further support. However, this support is not all-encompassing or even always accessible to everyone.

A drive towards social prescribing represents a shift away from a ‘fix me’ medical model of health and towards a more empowering model that enables people to take control over their own lives and their own health, with the right support and guidance of their medical professionals. This has the power to benefit the state of the nation’s health and simultaneously the state of general practice.

As anyone working in primary care will know, General Practice is currently firing on all cylinders as it manages the burden of a growing patient population of people living with long term conditions – both physical and mental (and often a combination of the two). Whilst we acknowledge that it will not be suitable for all, a solution that addresses health issues in a way that recognises the crucial interplay between physical, mental (and social!) wellness is something to be relished by GPs and other medical professionals we work with.

The future of Social Prescribing

We recognise that the burden on general practice is not just a medical concern but a social and societal issue, calling for social and societal solutions.

The Practice Unbound team is dedicated to helping primary care stakeholders understand their roles in this and learn and develop new adaptive ways of meeting the needs of their ever-growing populations – working collaboratively and developing tried and tested solutions that work at scale in response to the National situation we are in.

So, we are not simply watching with anticipation as the developments of this initiative unfold. We are constantly seeking and responding to opportunities to create a better world within the communities we serve and this is definitely the beginning of something exciting for us and our primary care partners – present and future – up and down the country as we all seek new and innovative solutions to the challenges in front of us.

Want to learn how we can help your practice with Social Prescribing?

Take a look at our new programme to get your Social Prescribing plans off the ground.