Patrick Harding, CEO and Founder of Joy, a social prescribing platform, explains what social prescribing is, how it works and how their platform has shown improved community well-being.
What is social prescribing?
Social prescribing is a way GPs, nurses, link workers and other health and care professionals can refer people to a range of local services to meet their non-clinical needs. The aim is to take a more holistic approach to a person’s health and wellbeing by focusing on what matters to them. Social prescribing is a key component of Universal Personalised Care and its rollout is actively supported by the Long Term Plan NHS England.
How it works
Social prescribing enables healthcare professionals and/or link workers to refer patients to community services. It’s a way patients without medical needs can get support whilst the healthcare professionals keep their own time free for patients with immediate health concerns.
To ensure no one falls through the cracks, link workers are increasingly being employed to bolster the resources in GP practices and throughout Primary Care Networks. A link worker holds a non-clinical role and provides support to those experiencing complex circumstances that could impact their overall wellbeing. After an initial assessment, a link worker will often refer a person to a community group that could be of benefit.
Most referrals are made to charities, which run activities to promote inclusion, reduce isolation, and improve physical and mental health. Some organisations can also offer helpful advice regarding legal matters, which clinicians are ill-equipped to provide.
Who is it for?
Social prescribing has been shown to be effective in supporting people with varying degrees of need. Whether accessing basic necessities like food and clothing, or complex legal support around debt or immigration matters, a robust social prescribing program can support everyone.
Those who could benefit most from these schemes include people who experience mental health concerns, people with additional needs, people with an inactive lifestyle and those who are isolated. During the peak of the pandemic, many Covid-specific programs were initiated to help those who were shielding remain as connected to others as possible.
Why is it becoming popular?
Social prescribing isn’t necessarily new, but schemes have been gaining popularity over the last few years. The NHS’s 2019 Long Term Plan pledged, “Over 1,000 trained social prescribing link workers will be in place by the end of 2020/21 rising further by 2023/24, with the aim that over 900,000 people are able to be referred to social prescribing schemes by then.” More recently, the NHS included social prescribing as one of the 6 components of Universal Personalised Care.
Social prescribing schemes are part of the recent rise in community-centred health. Integrating these types of schemes promotes a holistic way to address the social determinants of health by empowering people to take more ownership of their wellbeing.
A study conducted by Wokingham Borough Council found that residents’ wellbeing improved by an average of 26% after being referred to a community organisation via Joy. In Shropshire, a study assessing the effectiveness of social prescribing for a variety of needs from weight loss to loneliness was found to be highly effective. Service users rated their satisfaction with the experience a whopping 4.8/5!
Although these results are encouraging, more data to support and strengthen the evidence base for these types of schemes is required. This is one of the ways social prescribing platforms like Joy can help. Joy not only provides a multi-function system to assist link workers with their efforts, but also generates valuable data to prove the efficacy of schemes. The more obvious the benefits, the more widely adopted these kinds of community-centred practices will become.
The future of social prescribing looks bright, but there is no way to ignore the fact that covid has decimated the budgets of many community organisations. The ecosystem of community organisations that so many depend on needs to stay intact for social prescribing schemes to have a sustainable impact.
The good news is that the government recently pledged more than £360 million for charities in England. This will hopefully ensure link workers have suitable options for social prescribing long into the future. One thing that’s become increasingly clear since the start of the pandemic is that social prescribing schemes are a necessary component in keeping both our NHS and our population healthy.
Find out more about Joy’s social prescribing solutions: Social Prescribing – Joy Social Prescribing Software (thejoyapp.com)
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Joy is part of the sixth cohort of the DigitalHealth.London Accelerator programme.
The DigitalHealth.London Accelerator is a collaborative programme funded by two of London’s Academic Health Science Networks – UCL Partners and the Health Innovation Network, MedCity, CW+ and receives match funding from the European Regional Development Fund.