RCGP calls on government to facilitate ‘social prescribing’ for all practices

RCGP puts social prescribing forward as a means of tackling the ‘crippling’ GP workload

Every GP surgery should be funded to have access to a dedicated social prescriber in a bid to tackle crippling GP workload and free up their time for those patients most in need of medical care, according to a report by the Royal College of GPs (RCGP).

The report assesses NHS England’s Time for Care Programme – specifically, its 10 High Impact Actions, which aim to cut workload in general practice.

Workload in general practice increased by at least 16% between 2007 and 2014 – and with the growing UK population and more patients presenting with multiple, chronic conditions, the volume and complexity of work for GPs and their teams is set to further increase.

Of the 10 High Impact Actions evaluated, the College found that the recommendation to utilise social prescribing – the practice of referring patients to non-medical care – to be one of the most effective and beneficial for both GP teams and patients.

According to a recent RCGP survey, 59% of family doctors think that social prescribing can help reduce workload.

An evidence review, from the University of Westminster, found that studies report an average drop of 28% in demand on GP services following a referral to a social prescribing service.

This has led to the College’s call for every practice to be equipped with access to a dedicated social prescriber to help patients find the right care.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “GPs will always consider the physical, social, and psychological aspects of the person sitting in front of them, and this means they often identify non-medical needs.

“So, patients might benefit from an exercise class, a social group, or another activity which helps them get out of the house and meet other people.

“Social prescribing is not a new idea – good GPs have always done it, it just didn’t have a name – but we need to start realising the wider, long-term benefits this way of working can have, for general practice, the wider NHS, and most importantly our patients.

“We hear fantastic stories of social prescribing transforming patients’ lives, but many practices are not equipped to do it effectively, particularly with the intense resource and workforce pressures they are facing. Having someone who had a dedicated role to take on this responsibility could help everyone.

“Of course, greater use of social prescribing means that there needs to be sufficient resources – community groups, appropriate schemes and classes, and an up-to-date database – in the community to refer patients on to.”

RCGP’s Spotlight on the 10 High Impact Actions report also includes other evidence for productive action including recommendations for developing practice teams, active signposting, and personal productivity.

“We welcome NHS England’s work at identifying actions for change. The 10 High Impact Actions are all well-intentioned, but we’ve found that some are more pragmatic and beneficial than others – and more use of social prescribing certainly appears to be a force for good. But we need the tools to do it properly,” Professor Stokes-Lampard added.

“Ultimately, we need NHS England’s GP Forward View, pledging £2.4bn a year for general practice, 5,000 more GPs, and 5,000 more members of the practice team by 2020 to be delivered urgently and in full. And we need similar promises made and delivered in Scotland, Wales and NI, so that our patients have robust, safe GP care wherever they live in the U.K.”

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