Creating opportunities to help people in East Kent to live happier and healthier lives

THM position statement on the importance of Social Prescribing

Social Prescribing was first introduced in the NHS in the 1990’s, yet as a concept it is poorly understood and is unheard of by most of the population. However, in 2019 there was a step change when NHS England’s long-term plan incorporated it into its’ model for Universal Personalised Care. The aim is to have social prescribing in primary care with 1,000 new social prescribing link workers in place by 2020/21, and significantly more after that, so that at least 900,000 people will be referred to social prescribing by 2023/24.

This is part of the drive to Universal Personalised Care that will see at least 2.5 million people benefiting from personalised care by 2023/24. Social prescribing link workers are becoming an integral part of the multi-disciplinary teams in primary care networks (PCNs). They are part of the additional roles in the five year framework for GP contract reform and are included in the Network Direct Enhanced Service Contract for 2020/21. This is the biggest investment in social prescribing by any national health system and legitimises community-based activities and support alongside medical treatment as part of personalised care.

What is Social Prescribing?
Social Prescribing, also sometimes known as community referral, is a means of enabling health professionals to refer people to a range of local, non-clinical services. The referrals generally, but not exclusively, come from professionals working in primary care settings, for example, GPs or practice nurses. Recognising that people’s health and wellbeing are determined mostly by a range of social, economic and environmental factors, social prescribing seeks to address people’s needs in a holistic way. It also aims to support individuals to take greater control of their own health.

In other words, Social prescribing is a means of enabling GPs, nurses and other healthcare professionals to refer people to a range of local, non-clinical services to improve health and well-being. Social prescribing schemes have the potential and should be designed to reduce workload for GP surgeries.

How is Social prescribing delivered?

In some counties (e.g., Hampshire) Social Prescribers are directly employed by the Health Service but in others the service is contracted to third party providers. In Mid Kent they work for the charity Involve Kent and in East Kent the service is provided by Connect Well East Kent, a Kent County Council (KCC) funded Social Prescribing and Community Navigator programme.  Social Enterprise Kent works as a new consortium called East Kent Strategic Partnership, including Age Well East Kent (Age UK), Red Zebra Community Solutions and Carers’ Support East Kent, to deliver the contract over 4 years. According to KCC, social prescribing is not universally available in Kent; and, for example, their website states that in Thanet it is only available in two wards.

There are three components to social prescribing: 1) referral from a healthcare professional, 2) consultation with a link worker or navigator (SPLW) and 3) use of local voluntary or community organisations e.g., social services, public health funded health behaviour programmes and self-management programmes, weight management and diabetes management programmes, children centres, libraries, museums, leisure centres, coaching programmes.

What impact can Social prescribing have?

There is emerging evidence that social prescribing can lead to a range of positive health and wellbeing outcomes for people, such as improved quality of life and emotional wellbeing. Though there is a need for more robust and systematic evidence on its’ effectiveness, social prescribing schemes may lead to a reduction in the use of NHS services, including GP attendance. 59% of GPs think Social prescribing can help reduce their workload.

The Think Healthy Me Board of Directors are excited about the potential benefits of Social prescribing and are keen to see it flourish and succeed across Kent. We have a wide range of readily available skills, resources, services and schemes that Social prescribers could signpost their clients to if only they were aware of them. For example, our Diabetes Support Group in Thanet would be an ideal resource for their clients who have Diabetes.

In the coming months we plan to reach out to existing Social prescribers to establish the needs of their clients and identify if they have any gaps in service provision that THM could successfully fill.