Social prescribing: a benefit to the NHS and its patients

Social prescribing offers many benefits to the NHS and its patients and has become more popular and more frequently used over recent years, HB looks at how it is being used in the health service and the benefits it offers

Social prescribing enables healthcare professionals to prescribe non-clinical services to patients. The aim of social prescribing is to address health needs in a holistic way and empower people to take greater control of their own health.
    
Also known as community referral, the use of social prescribing recognises that people’s health is determined by a range of social, economic and environmental factors and that addressing these factors can improve a person’s health.
    
The activities prescribed are generally provided by voluntary and community sector organisations and include activities such as volunteering, arts activities, group learning, gardening, befriending, cookery, healthy eating advice and sports.

Long Term Plan
Social prescribing is part of the NHS Long Term Plan to make personalised care part of the health and care system. This is so people have choice and control over the way their care is planned and delivered.
    
Local agencies such as general practice, local authorities, pharmacies, multi-disciplinary teams, hospital discharge teams and allied health professionals, as well as the fire service, police, job centres, social care services, housing associations and voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) organisations are able to refer people to a link worker. Link workers then connect people to community groups and agencies for practical and emotional support and collaborate with local partners to make community groups accessible and sustainable.

Advantages
The benefits of social prescribing are numerous and include improving outcomes by giving people more choice and control over their lives and giving them an improved sense of belonging when they are involved in community groups.
    
It is also effective at improving health inequalities, for example, by helping with debt, unemployment, and housing or improving health literacy.
    
Social prescribing can be beneficial for people who need support with their mental health, have one or more long-term conditions, are lonely or isolated or have complex social needs that affect their wellbeing. Social prescribing can help people with non-clinical needs, such as support on things like debt, unemployment, and housing issues, which can in turn improve their mental health. Building social connections through local community groups, like walking, singing and gardening groups can help people suffering from loneliness.
    
There is also evidence to suggest that social prescribing reduces pressure on the NHS by directing people to more appropriate services and groups and supporting people early on, before they need more help from the health service.

Social prescribing hubs
NHS Property Services (NHSPS) has recently announced the delivery of over 50 buildings and outdoor spaces that are being used as social prescribing hubs around the country.
    
Over the last three years, NHSPS has identified, converted and made available 54 tailor-made social prescribing hubs, where people are able to access non-clinical services, including outdoor gyms; sensory gardens, suicide prevention counselling, breastfeeding advisory sessions and ‘toy libraries’.
    
When using the hubs, people are encouraged to take more control of their own health and their wellbeing.
    
NHS England announced earlier this year the planned recruitment of 2,000 link workers to ease the demand on primary care over the winter and the hubs are also a key component in reducing pressures on clinical and acute services. It is hoped the hubs will help the NHS to remain resilient as winter pressures are expected to be the worst on record.
    
Since the start of the hub project in 2019, figures suggest that around 35,000 people have been able to access social prescribing services. Those benefitting from the hubs include patients experiencing physical and mental health issues, including People with Special Educational Needs (SEN)/Learning Difficulties and Disabilities (LDD), people with physical and mental health issues, young carers, asylum seekers and refugees, expectant parents, and adult offenders.
    
Rhea Horlock, Head of Corporate and Social Responsibility (CSR) for NHSPS said: “Passing the 50-hub milestone is important progress in our efforts to support NHSE in meeting its targets for 900,000 people to be referred to social prescribing by 2023/24. We are committed to continue to grow our social prescribing programme to bring this valuable support to more local communities.”
    
“With the NHS Long Term Plan expecting to be refreshed over the coming months, non-clinical interventions such as social prescribing are expected to feature as a core focus for innovation given their proven results to reduce the pressures on primary and acute care. NHS Property Services will continue to support the development of hubs across the NHS estate to support this growing ambition.”

The Listening Place
The Listening Place in London, in a space delivered by NHSPS, has been set up to provide face-to-face support from professionally supervised volunteers to people with chronic suicidal feelings.
    
The Listening Place CEO Sarah Anderson CBE said: “Although The Listening Place was only established five and a half years ago, with a second full time premises opened in partnership with NHSPS, and even more volunteers trained, we are now receiving and responding to more than 500 referrals a month.”
    
“The Listening Place is currently on course to open a third full time facility in West London in the next few months and is already looking to East London for more premises - we have been fortunate to find funders and partners who have supported our growth so far, and we hope to continue to grow across London, and beyond. We have doubled our capacity over the last few years and need to double it again over the next few years if we are to meet the demand for support for those who feel life is no longer worth living.”
    
Lucy Patterson, visitor support manager at The Listening Place added: “We are offering some 100 appointments a day, with currently over 1,100 suicidal visitors receiving ongoing support for the time they need from our Listening Volunteers.”
    
“We have received over 11,000 referrals in five and a half years. We need to provide a warm listener, and a safe and welcoming place, and give our visitors the opportunity to talk confidentially about their feelings and their thoughts of suicide.”
    
The benefits of social prescribing are clear, as these services and activities offer help to people struggling with issues such as debt and loneliness and therefore having a positive effect on their physical and mental health and reduce the pressure on the NHS. With the new social prescribing hubs delivered by NHSPS, it is hoped many people will be able to access these services and help the NHS as we head into winter.

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