Around half of GP appointments are not directly related to medical conditions, according to experts. As a result NHS England has announced plans to recruit 1,000 workers to help patients live fitter, healthier lives and combat anxiety, loneliness and depression under plans to ramp up social prescribing..
Growing evidence shows that referrals to community services such as exercise or art classes, history groups and even ballroom dancing can boost health and wellbeing more than dishing out pills or other treatments.
Now NHS England plans to recruit 1,000 social prescribing ‘link workers’ as part of the NHS Long Term Plan. The link workers will be able to give people time to talk about what matters to them and support them to find suitable activities that are a better alternative to medication as part of a step change in the provision of ‘personalised care’.
By 2023-24, social prescribers will be handling around 900,000 patient appointments a year.
Dr Nikita Kanani, NHS England’s Acting Medical Director of Primary Care, said: “We will be recruiting a substantial number of people to support general practitioners over the next five years, to help ease the workload and pressures that we know general practice is under. But we see the network of social prescribers as a fundamental change to the way primary care operates and vital to the future. Recruiting social prescriber link workers will be a priority target as a part of the Universal Care Plan.”
The expansion of social prescribing comes in backed by family doctors and comes alongside plans to expand the primary care workforce as outlined in the NHS Long Term Plan.
James Sanderson, NHS England’s Director of Personalised Care, said: “A further 2.5 million people will benefit from personalised care by 2024. A one-size-fits-all health and care system simply cannot meet the increasing complexity of people’s needs and expectations, so we’re setting out how people who live with multiple long term conditions can expect the same choice and control over their mental and physical health that they have come to expect in every other aspect of their life.”
“Social Prescribing is an important component of the NHS comprehensive model of Personalised Care and there is emerging evidence that it can lead to a range of positive health and wellbeing outcomes for people, such as improved quality of life and emotional wellbeing. The aim is that social prescribing schemes lead to a substantial reduction in the use of NHS services, including GP attendances.”
Dr Richard Vautrey, British Medical Association (BMA) GP committee chair said:“Every day, GPs see a large number of patients with a broad range of health conditions. But often, those who come to see their GP will have complex underlying reasons for doing so, not always medical and often linked to social and domestic circumstances which affect their physical and mental wellbeing.
“Good access to professionals who can link patients to local services and activities – such as community support groups and classes – can be of great benefit to patients, actively involving them in their own care and improving their longer-term wellbeing. This should also allow GPs to focus their time and expertise on treating people’s more immediate or acute health needs.
“GPs and their teams are under a huge amount of pressure to deliver high quality care to a rising population with increasingly complex needs, and therefore it is vital, now more than ever, that patients are able to see the right healthcare or support professional for them within a reasonable timeframe. The BMA has long-backed social prescribers supporting the general practice team, and this commitment to roll them out across the country is very welcome.”
Dr Marie-Anne Essam, a GP in South Oxhey, an area of significant deprivation in South West Hertfordshire, is the social prescribing ambassador for the Herts and West Essex STP.
She said: “In the 30 years I have spent as a GP, social prescribing represents the most effective, wide reaching and life changing of all initiatives to date. Sometimes I have no idea what underlies a person’s repeated presentation to the surgery.”
“Sometimes I catch a glimpse of one or two social determinants of health – like seeing the tip of an iceberg. The link worker spends time and expertise which I lack, to explore with the patients the rest of the iceberg, bit by bit.”
“People are enabled to use the clinical services more productively, and make personal advances which are both transformative and sustainable.”