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  • Simon Tanner & Andy Parkinson

Building the evidence base around social prescribing

What is social prescribing?

People are facing more pressures and uncertainties in their everyday life. Evidence shows that around 20% of patients consult their GP about issues that are primarily social problems. In addition, longer waiting time and resource constraints on the NHS make getting timely support increasingly more challenging. Working with GPs, social prescribing provides tools and opportunities to support health and wellbeing that cannot be resolved by a purely medical model alone.

Social prescribing is a holistic model that looks at the wider way our environment and circumstances may impact our health, including issues like finances, a lack of social connectedness, and challenging home environments. In turn it enables individuals to access activities that may help to boost their health and wellbeing, by focusing on these wider challenges. Support can be accessed through community and voluntary groups enabling individuals to volunteer, learn, participate in sports or the arts. The result can include both preventative and reactive health and wellbeing outcomes. At its heart, social prescribing empowers individuals to take control of their own health and wellbeing, by enabling them to select activities that support their needs and interests.

What value does social prescribing provide?

There is emerging evidence that social prescribing can lead to a range of positive health and wellbeing outcomes for people, such as improved quality of life and emotional wellbeing.

From a policy perspective, the value of social prescribing cannot be underestimated. It has been included in the NHS Long Term Plan, and in other key government initiatives including the government’s Loneliness Strategy, the 25 Year Environmental Plan and Covid Recovery. In a recent evidence review, social prescribing was attributed to a reduced use of GPs by 28%, and attendance to A&E by 24%. Yet at the heart, social prescribing is a person-centred approach that provides personalised tailored support with a range of benefits, from improved mental health to improved community resilience.

What are examples of social prescribing in action?

This week is social prescribing week. At Wavehill we have been reflecting on the transformational impacts social prescription can have for individuals and their communities, which we have witnessed first-hand during our evaluation work. By understanding the link between health and wellbeing we can assess what the long-term benefits and impacts of social prescribing can be. This is built on our experience from evaluating a wide range of projects across different types of timely interventions with individuals and communities across the UK over recent years.

The interventions range for sports and physical interventions such as the Activity Alliance national programme. This programme brings together both people with and without disabilities through community sports initiatives across the UK. Working with delivery partners Get Out Get Active (GOGA) the programme has, since its inception in 2016 seen a statistically significant increase in participants reporting improved life satisfaction and a sense of life being worthwhile and, noted declines in anxiety levels.

Understanding both the local and national context is vital. The Thriving Communities programme provides local interventions by local communities around the UK. We are undertaking research across 36 funded projects in England and Wales to understand and demonstrate the contribution they have made to delivering social prescribing activities in their local areas and the benefits that have been accrued. A local perspective is also vital. In Northumberland for example, we are evaluating 5 pilot projects focused on providing enhanced social prescribing activities for individuals with neurodiverse and mental health conditions.

Empowering and enabling people to take control of their health and wellbeing through timely interventions is creating traction amongst local and national organisations across the UK as well as policy makers. Wavehill are contributing to the evidence base that demonstrates the positive impact social prescribing is having on individuals and communities.


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