New project to develop new community-led social prescribing

Social prescribing enables health professionals to refer people to a range of local, non-clinical services – such as volunteering, gardening or art activities – and has gained traction in the NHS in recent years.

Now the University of Plymouth is leading new research that will investigate if and how social prescribing might be broadened and offered outside of the NHS, enhancing its use as a preventative tool.

Dr Kerryn Husk, Associate Professor of Health Services Research, is leading the work, in collaboration with the University of Sheffield. The project is funded by the Medical Research Council, and supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Applied Research Collaboration South West Peninsula (PenARC).

The project focuses on the voluntary and community sector, bringing together a broad range of people with experience of designing, delivering and accessing social prescribing, to collect information about self-referrals in the community.

The research team will establish how the systems work, how these structures interact and how to best support them to offer activities in the best way for individuals to attend and improve their health.

A key outcome will then be a detailed system map and guidance for voluntary and community sectors involved in social prescribing – with the researchers ensuring that any guidance produced reaches those in a position to benefit from it, and to influence service changes for the good of communities, before planning further projects to ensure the guidance is as useful and impactful as possible.

Dr Husk said: 

“Social prescribing has received more backing from policy makers, politicians and the NHS, which is great, as research shows that it really can make a difference to people’s lives. But there is limited evidence on the how the voluntary and care sector, which are often involved in delivering interventions, are impacted by these referrals.

“The current process of social prescribing sees an individual go to their GP, who then puts them in touch with a link worker, who ‘prescribes’ an activity or occupation. This is where the new project comes in – we want to see if and how we can develop new pathways for social prescribing, that can help individuals, communities and the voluntary and community sector deliver work at ground level."

He continued: 

“There’s a lot to consider but, as a team with extensive expertise in delivering, researching, and being part of social prescribing, we feel there is an opportunity to develop a more formal pathway into existing community-based social prescribing activities, which we know have health and wellbeing effects, but without the heavy reliance on the health service 'scaffolding'.”


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