Comment: Social prescribing - why should we care?

Published on: 10 October 2017


Alex Teckkam, Codes of Practice Assessor at PAGB explores the role of social prescribing in self care

The healthcare landscape is changing. The NHS is facing increasing pressure on resources, and politicians and NHS policy makers are challenging local health providers and commissioners to affect change at a local level, to look for new and innovative solutions to a broad and complex challenge: How can you improve health outcomes for less money?

In addressing this challenge, there are signs of a shift away from traditional top down models of care. Instead, many local health providers and commissioners are starting to explore more holistic approaches to treatment, tackling social, economic and environmental factors of health instead of focusing purely on treating physical ailments.

Alex Teckkam, PAGB

Social prescribing is one initiative that is emerging as a popular, practical and low cost option.

Sometimes referred to as community referral, social prescribing enables GPs and other primary care professionals to refer people to non-clinical, local, often community led services. Social clubs, self-help groups and exercise classes may all be available options for referral. Healthcare professionals have the opportunity to utilise community networks to go beyond simply improving the physical health of an individual. Instead there is a chance to help provide people with the tools and confidence to control their own health without a reliance on primary care and effectively engage and empower people to self care.

The good news is that implementation of social prescribing schemes is unlikely to result in any significant challenges to the OTC industry. In fact, there is the potential for schemes to help create a more positive healthcare environment, one from which we can all benefit.

Several initial studies indicate that social prescribing can both benefit the NHS as well as the individual. One recent evaluation of an initiative in Rotherham suggested reductions in A&E attendance, outpatient appointments and GP attendance for those receiving a social prescription. Others have demonstrated that social prescribing can help support self management of long term conditions, while having positive benefits on quality of life, confidence and other health outcomes.

So, while there is not yet a robust foundation of supporting evidence, social prescribing appears to be a potential tool to both reduce the burden on the NHS and help empower people with skills and the self-reliance to look after their health. Promoting these interventions which bolster people’s confidence to look after their health is one key step towards fostering a more empowered and health literate society.

So why is this important?

The current low levels of health literacy are having a significant effect on NHS resources. Recent research from PAGB suggested that people lack confidence in their own knowledge and judgement, which often leaves them wanting to check their own diagnosis with a GP. In 2007 it was estimated that 57 million GP consultations each year resulted from minor ailments which could have been treated at home, or via the pharmacist. This cost to the NHS amounts to £2 billion that could be spent elsewhere.
We hope that schemes such as social prescribing demonstrate a real opportunity to tackle some of the causes of these issues. As explained in NHS England’s Five Year Forward View (2014): ‘As people become expert patients, the need to use services will reduce.’ A more empowered public may help to drive more appropriate use of the NHS, meaning resources could be reinvested more efficiently.

However, we understand that while increasing social prescribing is a step in the right direction, more still needs to be done to effectively support people to confidently self care. Ensuring provision of accessible information, consistent messaging, and clear signposting to services are all important to ensure future success.
PAGB therefore remains committed to promoting the case for self care. With Self Care Week 2017 fast approaching (13-19 November), we continue to work closely with the Self Care Forum as we aim to embed self care into everyday life.

© PAGB October 2017

Alex Teckkam is Codes of Practice Assessor at PAGB

This article first appeared in PAGB’s member newsletter, Spotlight (October 2017)