Social prescribing enables healthcare professionals to refer patients to a link worker who supports a patient to improve their health and wellbeing by accessing a range of local, non-clinical services, often provided by the voluntary and community sectors - for example initiatives to support patients with physical problems such as type 2 diabetes or people with mental health issues. Therefore, social prescribing has been recognised as having the potential to reduce the financial burden on the NHS.
Across the UK many social prescribing projects have been developed at a local level, for example by GP practices, often in isolation. Research to date shows clear feasibility for social prescribing, but lacks studies to inform how to implement social prescribing on a larger scale. The University of Westminster and the College of Medicine recognised the need to create a national network to bring all professional stakeholders and patients together to enable the development of collaborative and systematic strategies to support social prescribing for wider use in the healthcare sector.
The Social Prescribing Network aims to promote social prescribing as a method for the healthcare system to access pragmatic solutions to meet the growing needs of people living with long term physical and mental health conditions when medication is not always appropriate or necessary. The network will carry out collaborative research and evaluation and produce recommendations which will be shared for discussion with NHS officials, members of parliament and voluntary organisations with a view to influencing long term policy and investment.
The Social Prescribing Network was launched at a parliamentary event on Wednesday, 9 March which was attended by a wide range of policy makers, healthcare professionals, commissioners, voluntary and community representatives and patients. Discussions focused on challenges and strategies in moving social prescribing from isolated local initiatives to the national level. A number of peers were supportive of the network, including Lord Low of Dalston and Rt Hon Alistair Burt, Minister for Community and Social Care.
Pictured with Senior Lecturer in Health Sciences and Research Dr Marie Polley, Professor Jane Lewis, Dean of the Faculty of Science and Technology, was also in attendance
Dr Marie Polley, Co-Chair of the Social Prescribing Network, Chair of British Society for Integrated Oncology and Senior Lecturer in Health Sciences and Research at the University of Westminster, said: “The cost of supporting people with long term conditions and wider social welfare needs is unsustainable using the current models of care. This fails to provide the personalised support and advice that patients need to empower them to take responsibility for their own health. Our new Social Prescribing Network offers the chance for both patients and professionals to collaborate on making social prescribing a viable approach that help to address these issues.”
Dr Michael Dixon, Co-Chair of the Social Prescribing Network, said: “Social prescription is the ultimate resolution for patients experiencing a range of psychosocial and other problems where a medical prescription is inappropriate. The Social Prescribing Network launch is a step towards educating a wider audience of policy makers, commissioners, healthcare professionals and patients of the enormous benefits that social prescribing can bring.”
The Network is co-funded by the University of Westminster, the Wellcome Trust and the Fit for Work UK Coalition with support from the College of Medicine.
To coincide with the launch of the Social Prescribing Network, the University of Westminster and the College of Medicine produced a report to highlight the positive impact of social prescribing and challenges to overcome to make our health, NHS and care services more sustainable. View a copy of the full report.
Read more about the Social Prescribing Network.