Social prescribing explained

The announcement of funding for Primary Care Networks (PCNs) to have a Social Prescribing Link worker has set many GPs wondering what a social prescriber is or does. This short blog aims to explain a bit about social prescribing and how PCNs can get the most out of it.

What is social prescribing?

In simple terms it is helping people to connect with community groups for practical and emotional support. 

Why does it need a link worker?

We all know there are lots of good things going on in our local communities, but how many of us know all the contact details; or have the time or skill to truly support people to identify what will work for them?

There are many different models of Social Prescribing around the country but the most successful are the ones which include link workers because they do have the time, skill and knowledge to make a difference. They accept referrals from other agencies apart from General Practice, such as social care, police or job centres. The initial assessment takes 30-60 minutes and they work with people for 6-12 contacts typically.

How is it different to Care Navigation?

Good social prescribing gives people time to think about what matters to them and supports them to connect with community groups. It also collaborates with community groups to support them and helps people to start new groups.

Care Navigators and Social Prescribing Link Workers are separate roles which complement each other. Whilst care navigators can signpost people to community groups, they do not have the time or space to allow people to focus on what matters to them, or support people to connect with groups. A Care Navigator should be able to refer to a link worker if they identify someone needs more time and support.

Who does it work for?

I often think that the sort of people who might benefit from social prescribing are the ones who you feel you are missing something; not really helping them, despite your best efforts. For example a diabetic with a stubbornly raised HBA1C despite multiple medications, or someone with medically unexplained symptoms might benefit. It is generally suggested social prescribing works well for people:

  •  With one or more long-term conditions

  • Who need support with their mental health?

  • Who are lonely or isolated

  • Who have complex social needs which affect their wellbeing

What difference does it make?

There is emerging evidence that Social Prescribing can lead to a range of positive outcomes for health and quality of life. It is true that the evidence for a reduction in health service use is less robust, but it is thought that it may lead to a reduction in use.

Think how much of a difference it would make if Social Prescribing could reduce your most frequent attenders surgery contacts by 1/3!

Sounds great and it's free. How do I get one?

There are lots of people out in the community who have the skills to be a Social Prescribing link worker. A competency framework is being finalised, but a job description and common outcomes framework already exist in the NHS England Social Prescribing Summary.

It’s possible the local Health and Wellbeing Network will be able to develop a local network of Social Prescribing Link Workers. There are actually lots of roles locally which might be called Social Prescribing link workers already; for example community Navigators in Cambridgeshire or Community Connectors in Peterborough. The difference with the Social Prescribing Link worker is that they will be based in Primary Care Networks.

Want to find out more?