What are the benefits of social prescribing?

Social Prescribing is on course to revolutionise the Primary Care landscape.

And today, here at Practice Unbound, we announced plans for our upcoming Social Prescribing blended learning programme.

Now Alison Powell from our Wales division talks about some of the benefits of social prescribing for the population.

A brief history of Social Prescribing

Plans for a ‘National Academy for Social Prescribing’ were announced by Health Secretary Matt Hancock in November 2018 and NHS England will fund 1,000 social prescribing workers by April 2021.

Welsh Governments ‘A Healthier Wales: our plan for Health and Social Care’ (Oct. 2018) is predicated on the basis of wellbeing and taking a holistic approach to health and integrated public and third sector services. In Scotland, the Self-Management and Social Prescribing Advisory group was established in April 2014 with one of its aims being awareness-raising.

But, what is it, what are the benefits and what are the barriers to realising these?

It’s all in a name

The terminology can be confusing, with social prescribing sometimes being used interchangeably with community referral, active signposting, community development, but at its’ heart it is about, “…people’s health is determined primarily by a range of social, economic and environmental factors, social prescribing seeks to address people’s needs in a holistic way. It also aims to support individuals to take greater control of their own health.” *

Proof in the pudding….

Taking control can, in itself, lead to demonstrable improvements. However, in assessing the overall benefits of social prescribing, most current research is anecdotal and qualitative. There is also complexity in comparing different types of referrals, interventions and activities, for example a cookery class for someone with heart disease; an art class for someone with depression and a befriending scheme to tackle loneliness.


Use it to make most use of it….

There is added difficulty in ensuring that the social prescription is taken up. As Nurse Katie Wright of The Practice of Health within Cardiff & Vale University Health Board said about their longstanding ‘Exercise on Referral’ scheme, “If people use it, it works well.”

So what’s the plan….

It seems essential that the benefits are articulated to encourage those with a social prescription to use it, particularly because those that are most socially excluded or in extreme poverty, often have the worst health, whilst being least likely to access services and, “The extent to which we have control over our lives, have good social connections and live in healthy, safe neighbourhoods are all important influences on health.” **

As professionals in primary care and with our colleagues across the public, community and voluntary sector, many of us have a gut instinct and a belief that social prescribing can have many benefits from:-

  • empowering the individual;
  • connecting them to their community;
  • promoting well-being;
  • improving mental, emotional and physical health and
  • freeing up GP time to focus on other areas of ill health.

But the task for all of us now is to effectively baseline, monitor, evaluate and then articulate this so that all can see, feel and crucially, evidence the benefits.

*From ‘Social Prescribing: Applying All Our Health”, Public Health England, (5th March 2019). Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0


** From ‘Social Prescribing: Applying All Our Health”, Public Health England, (5th March 2019). Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0

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.