Social prescribing consists of linking individuals from primary care (often their GP) to social interventions which have the potential to improve health and wellbeing. This pathway expands the options available to clinicians whose patients have complex social needs as well as medical, by connecting people to community resources, information and social activities, as well as linking people to a range of statutory and non-statutory agencies.
Potentially, social prescriptions can enable healthcare professionals to respond more effectively respond to a range of non-clinical needs and engage patients with professionals who are able to provide longer consultations and who have detailed knowledge of local social activities.
The range of activities that people engage with is diverse and can include gardening programmes, books on prescription, exercise on referral, referral for debt counselling, or housing advice. The range is such that the mechanisms of action are also diverse and can be activated through being with people, cognitive stimulation, or identity generation. In this way, social prescriptions are potentially applicable for treating a broad range of conditions or their prevention.
The practice of social prescribing is growing in popularity, but delivery is also disparate, variable and complex. A variety of referral models exist, ranging from signposting by primary care practitioners through to iterative activity choices, facilitated by link workers who can meet at length with patients and collate available activities to suit need and lifestyle, as well as provide a point of ongoing contact. There are a myriad of ways in which this process can be disrupted, for example if staff are not aware or unsupportive of the idea, or patients are unable to initiate their particular social prescription, it is impossible to maximise the potential of the service, ensure appropriate use, and avoid wasting resources.
There is then a risk of social prescribing services being developed without evidence about what should be offered or the processes that are required to support them, with a disconnect between health and other services resulting in patients not getting a social prescription appropriate to their needs. Our research programme seeks to generate robust evidence about what works, for whom, and in what ways.