GP gardening clubs

It has been five years since “social prescribing” – giving GPs the ability to refer people without a medical need to a “social prescribing link worker” who would be better placed to help them – was embraced by NHS England.

It’s widely been estimated that a fifth of GP appointments are for social issues like loneliness and isolation or from people with other multiple long-term conditions or complex needs. Social prescribing can connect people to nonmedical support to address these issues. Examples of social prescribing schemes include art, gardening and befriending groups, healthy eating or financial advice classes, as well as fitness and sports activities and dementia choirs. It also reduces pressure on GPs.

The National Academy for Social Prescribing (NASP) has published 13 evidence-based publications that suggest social prescribing is beneficial. Chief Executive, Charlotte Osborn-Forde, told Medscape News UK, “There are now more than 3500 social prescribing link workers in post across England, addressing the social factors related to poor health and wellbeing. Since 2019, more than 2.5 million people have been referred to a link worker. The evidence shows that social prescribing can help reduce loneliness, improve wellbeing and mental health, build social connections, and support people living with a wide range of physical health conditions.”

Social prescribing can also lead to reduced health service usage within both primary and secondary care. An evaluation of a social prescribing service in Shropshire showed a 40% reduction in GP appointments for people who had accessed social prescribing after 3 months.”

Looking ahead, it appears that social prescribing could have a bigger role to play in future. The Commons Health and Social Care Committee has recently published a report that recommends the creation of a national social prescribing strategy. However, this report did make clear that there should be steps taken to improve GPs’ understanding of the benefits of social prescribing and to improve their confidence in doing so.

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