Time to ‘boost local social prescribing’ to reduce burden on GPs

An inquiry report produced by academics at London South Bank University (LSBU) advises to ‘boost local social prescribing to lower dependency on GP services’

Plans for social prescribing, currently being rolled out across primary care by NHS England, will need to involve local patients if they are going to be effective in reducing dependency on overstretched NHS and GP services, says an inquiry into asset-based health.

The report, entitled The Asset Based Health Inquiry: How best to develop social prescribing?,has been launched at an event hosted by Sir Norman Lamb MP in the House of Commons. Lamb was previously minister of state for care and support in the coalition government.

The inquiry findings show that Primary Care Networks are starting to take on more social prescribing link workers. However, the authors assert that employing a link worker does not constitute social prescribing and merely reframing the funding for social prescribing into pet projects, a referral service, or a demand driven service will not achieve NHS England’s ambition for impact.

More importantly, across all the examples where real impact is being made, this report asserts that the starting point must be the community – not an NHS understanding of ‘a population sector’.

The authors set out a proposed infrastructure required to administer effective social prescribing. The key recommendation is an asset-based approach that brings together support for community ‘connectors’ and volunteers. This would help both primary care and the third sector establish collaborate relationships.

Professor Becky Malby, lead author, said: “Applying social prescribing is not a straightforward procedure but taking an asset-based approach has real potential for meeting people’s health and wellbeing needs, something that has not yet been universally realised. The emergence of using asset-based approaches to underpin social prescribing, is not yet widely understood.

“This Inquiry has uncovered a major issue for the NHS. Devices are designed based on demand, which in turn generates dependency and perpetuates demand. An asset-based approach can change the focus to starting with both people’s needs but also how best to work together to meet those needs,

“The national focus on social prescribing could break this cycle – but only if it is part of a new approach taken towards primary care that differs from a referral system. Where social prescribing works as part of a re-think and re-shaping of the primary care model, it generates positive opportunities for people not only to address their fundamental wellbeing needs, but it provides a space for those same people to uplift others.

“It is well documented that people who have social connections have better health.”

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