Social prescribing links patients with non-medical facilities in the community which provide social, emotional or practical support. A recent review considered the benefits of 35 social prescribing schemes across the UK. Many of these social prescribing schemes focus on the use of arts, education, exercise or healthy living initiatives, among others, to promote health and wellbeing.

Benefits to the individual

  • Increases in self-esteem and confidence
  • Sense of control and empowerment
  • Improvements in psychological or mental wellbeing
  • Positive mood, linked to reduced anxiety and depression

Particularly for older adults, social prescribing were shown to reduce the barriers to accessing services. By participating in class or group activities, evaluations suggest that older adults were less lonely and felt an increased sense of belonging.

Social prescribing provides opportunities for participants to socialise with other people, increase social contact and reduce loneliness and isolation.

Benefits to the healthcare system

There are also benefits for the healthcare system, with fewer people choosing to visit GP’s and other healthcare professionals. For example, 66% of participants of one social prescribing scheme reduced the number of times they visited a GP. Health professionals also had a greater choice of referral options for patients.

Implications for practice

Social prescribing can be an effective supplement to traditional interventions for older adults. A number of recommendations can be made following the review of social prescribing schemes:

  • Primary care professionals are the key to implementing social prescribing.

Frontline staff, such as mental health professionals, link workers and nurses, are best placed to be able to assess an individual’s needs and direct appropriately to facilities within the community. Frontline staff may engage with individuals, particularly older adults, in their own home, thus increase social contact and decrease in social isolation. Other non-health related professionals such as faith and charitable organisations may also be well placed to consider social prescribing, although this raises issues of access to potentially vulnerable older adults. The success of implementing social prescribing relies on communication between all parties involved, should an individual’s needs or risk factors change.

  • The need for collaborative commissioning of services and interventions

Collaborative commissioning of services is needed to reduce future healthcare costs, with a collective strategic promotion of wellbeing. Social prescribing could allow for making greater and stronger connections in the community, where traditional health models may have been limited. Additionally, other community resources such as museums, have the potential to promote health and wellbeing activities.

Research reference: Thomson, L. J., Camic, P. M. and Chatterjee, H. J. 2015. Social Prescribing: A Review of Community Referral Schemes. London: University College London.