Professor Andrew Corbett-Nolan, Chief Executive, Good Governance Institute; Harry Brunjes, Chair, English National Opera; Jenny Miller, Artistic Director, Barefoot Opera; Dr Jonathan Lubin, Principal GP, Derwent Medical Centre
For more than 10 years the Good Governance Institute has supported the boards of public, private and third sector organisations to help create a fairer, better world with improved outcomes for citizens. A significant proportion of this work has been with the NHS, and during the pandemic GGI has provided a free advisory service as well as collating and sharing the best knowledge and insight through our Covid-100 bulletins.
In our work with the NHS, the voluntary sector, community groups and local government, we have seen the rising importance and role of social prescribing. With the societal challenges posed by the impact of Covid-19 and the future of healthcare in integrated systems, social prescribing will play a significant role in the months and years to come.
What is social prescribing?
Social prescribing is the practice of helping patients improve their health and wellbeing by connecting them with non-clinical services to help address their social, emotional or practical needs.
Also known as community referral, social prescribing derives from the recognition that people’s health and wellbeing are shaped by a range of social, economic and environmental factors.
Social prescribing is usually carried out by primary care professionals such as GPs or practice nurses and supports people to take greater control of their health. Examples of social prescribing include referrals to healthy eating groups, volunteering, arts activities, sports or gardening.
There are various models for social prescribing in use across the UK, but most involve the patient working with a link worker (sometimes known as community connectors or health workers) to find the local support best suited to them.
Why is it important?
Social prescribing provides the greatest benefit to people with mild or long-term mental health problems, those who are socially isolated, or those who have multiple long-term conditions and frequently need primary or secondary healthcare support.
In the context of increased isolation and more sedentary working routines many of us have faced as a result of Covid-19, social prescribing could be more valuable than ever.
Social prescribing continues to grow in popularity, scope and scale across the UK. Its role and importance is being more formally recognised too: it was listed as one of the ten high-impact actions in the General Practice Forward View and is part of the NHS Long Term Plan’s commitment to make personalised care a more fundamental part of our health and care system.
As well as empowering people to develop and maintain their health, social prescribing also has the potential to help people recover to good health, particularly after serious illness such as Covid-19. It is in this area that social prescribing is being used in interesting and innovative ways with great effect.
In August, the government allocated £5 million to the National Academy for Social Prescribing (NASP), some of which went to a programme called ENO Breathe, devised by Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and the English National Opera.
The ENO Breathe programme of singing, breathing and wellbeing was aimed at supporting and enhancing the recovery of Covid-19 survivors. Led by ENO Baylis, the ENO’s learning and participation programme, this six-week online programme brought together medical and musical expertise to provide tools for self-management, particularly with regard to posture, breathing and anxiety. Just one example of an innovative and effective use of social prescribing.
GGI is itself a proud supporter of both ENO and Barefoot Opera, a rather smaller but no less enterprising opera company that keeps opera alive and vibrant at a grassroots level on the south coast. Both companies understand the therapeutic power of music and communal creative activity – and both are shining examples of how to remain relevant and viable in difficult times by thinking outside the box and embracing the new.
What does the future hold?
Despite its growing popularity, and its increasingly important role in light of the pandemic, the future of social prescribing faces considerable challenge.
Social prescribing is fundamentally reliant on partnership work between the NHS, voluntary and community groups and local authorities. The community and voluntary sector has been devastated by Covid-19, both operationally and financially. Research suggests that Covid-19 will negatively impact the ability of eight out of 10 charities to deliver on planned objectives in the coming year and force 10 per cent of them to close. At the same time local government, also crucial to social prescribing, is suffering a similarly significant financial challenge. Policy support for social prescribing must therefore marry up with financial support for these organisations.
Social prescribing is an example of the efficacy and value of a partnership approach to health. With the future of healthcare in the UK very much centred on integrated care systems, examples of the success of social prescribing are encouraging for the future of healthcare provision.
Social prescribing can help us to have a healthier society and keep our NHS sustainable, through accessible forms of art. For more information, visit www.good-governance.org.uk , www.eno.org and www.barefootopera.com.