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Social prescribing is a means for GPs and other healthcare professionals to refer patients via a link worker to non-clinical services in the local community. Social prescribing link workers help people to understand the underlying issues affecting their health and wellbeing and work with them to co-produce a personalised care and support plan. People can take up a range of activities and services including the arts, nature-based activities, physical activity classes and counselling.

The NHS estimates that 60% of clinical commissioning groups in England have social prescribing schemes in place.

Several policy papers and Government initiatives paved the way for social prescribing in England. These include the Foresight Report on Mental Capital (2008); the Marmot Review (2010) on reducing health inequalities in England; Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) in 2008; and the personalisation of health and social care, which aims to “promote wellbeing and prevent ill-health” by integrating health and social care services around the needs of the patient. Social prescribing is one of six evidence-based components of the NHS Comprehensive Model of Personalised Care.

The 2019 NHS Long Term Plan included a commitment to roll out the Comprehensive Model, which includes the recruitment and training of 1000 new social prescribing link workers in Primary Care Networks (PCNs) by 2020/21. A new GP contract for reform set out how the Government will fund the recruitment through an ‘Additional Jobs Reimbursement Scheme’.

In October 2019,the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care launched the National Academy for Social Prescribing. The Academy was established to create partnerships across various sectors, such as health, the arts, sports, and the natural environment to promote health and wellbeing and champion social prescribing.

The Government has launched several schemes and policies with a social prescribing component. These include awarding social prescribing schemes across England a share of £4.5 million and helping people with mild to moderate mental health conditions connect to nature under the 25 Year Environment Plan.

Although the evidence base has been criticised for not being robust enough, qualitative evidence suggests that social prescribing has positive impacts on people’s mental health and wellbeing as well as reducing demand on health services.

This paper details the development of social prescribing policies in England and provides an overview of schemes in the devolved nations.


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