The Benefits of Social Prescribing
Social prescribing is one of those rare initiatives that seems to garner near universal support from academics and medical professionals alike. However, it seems that much of the UK population is still unaware of what it is and why it is being so well-received.
Dr. Jane Dacre, the former President of the Royal College of Physicians described social prescribing as “a powerful tool that can help people to live healthier, happier lives. It is a cost-effective way to provide people with the support they need to manage their health conditions and to live more independently.”
Dr. Maureen Baker, former Chief Executive of the Royal College of General Practitioners stated “social prescribing is a valuable way of helping people to address the social and environmental factors that can impact on their health and wellbeing. It is a win-win for patients, the NHS, and communities.”
Professor Sir Michael Marmot, Director of the Institute of Health Equity at University College London claimed “social prescribing is a promising approach to tackling the root causes of ill health. It has the potential to improve people’s health and wellbeing, reduce inequalities, and save the NHS money.”
These few examples exemplify why leading healthcare experts are so excited about the potential of social prescribing’s impact on society. And the benefits are extensive.
Improved health and wellbeing
Social prescribing can help to improve patient’s health and wellbeing in a number of ways.
Reducing stress and anxiety: Social prescribing connects patients with activities and services that they enjoy. For example, someone who is feeling stressed about their job might be referred to a local yoga class, whilst someone who is feeling anxious about their health might be referred to a support group.
Increasing social support: Social prescribing can help connect patients with groups and activities where they can meet people and make new friendships. This can be especially beneficial for people who are socially isolated or who have recently moved to a new area.
Improving physical activity: Social prescribing can connect individuals with activities such as walking groups, swimming lessons, or gardening clubs that raise their levels of physical activity, reducing the risk of chronic diseases, improving mood and boosting energy levels.
Reducing loneliness and isolation: Social prescribing can help to reduce loneliness and isolation by connecting people with groups and activities where they can interact in easy social settings. Loneliness and isolation are well known for being major risk factors for poor health, and social prescribing can help to reduce these risks.
Reduced healthcare costs
Referenced in the quotes from the healthcare experts above, a major appeal of social prescribing is its potential to reduce healthcare costs by minimising the need for hospital admissions and GP visits. A study by the King's Fund found that social prescribing reduced the number of GP visits by 10% and the number of hospital admissions by 5%. Social prescribing can do this because it empowers the population to manage their health conditions more effectively, helping avoid becoming ill in the first place.
Increased patient satisfaction
Another benefit of social prescribing is its potential to increase patient satisfaction levels. The approach adopts a more holistic approach to their health and wellbeing. Patients who receive social prescribing services have been found to be more satisfied with their care and feel that their needs are being met.
A further benefit of social prescribing is its ability to strengthen the communities in which it operates by connecting people with each other and their local services. This can assist in creating a more cohesive and supportive community, which can have a positive impact on people's health and wellbeing.
Organisations reaping the rewards of social prescribing
Healthcare bodies are increasingly embracing social prescribing because of its multitude of benefits.
The Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust has a social prescribing team that works with GPs to refer patients to a range of local, non-clinical services. The team has seen a significant reduction in the number of GP appointments and hospital admissions among patients who have been referred to social prescribing services.
The NHS Ayrshire & Arran has a social prescribing network that connects GPs with a range of local, non-clinical services. The network has seen a significant improvement in patient satisfaction and a reduction in the number of GP appointments among patients who have been referred to social prescribing services.
And the NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde has a social prescribing programme that connects GPs with a range of local, non-clinical services. The programme has seen a significant improvement in patient health and wellbeing among patients who have been referred to social prescribing services.
These examples are representative of an increasing body of evidence demonstrating the overwhelming benefits of social prescribing. And as the evidence continues to grow, we can expect to see more and more GP practices adopting the approach. Social prescribing is a valuable tool that can help to improve people's health and wellbeing. It is a cost-effective way to provide people with the support they need to live healthier and happier lives. And that is a compelling proposition for the population as a whole, as well as the NHS and government.