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Making Sense of Social Prescribing

VOICES social prescribing

By Steve Barkess, Community Development Coordinator, VOICES

This month as a member of the community development team here at VOICES I attended a workshop focusing on social prescribing.

For Stoke on Trent and Staffordshire this new approach will look at different and more holistic methods of supporting people who are experiencing mental ill health, loneliness or isolation to replace sometimes unnecessary medical interventions.

The concept of social prescribing recognises the various factors that contribute to a person’s overall health. This includes the socio-economic and psycho-social factors of everyday life for people of all ages by utilising what is available within the local community and how this can be accessed. Individuals will be referred to social prescribing by a healthcare professional such as GP, health visitor, or community nurse as an example.

The event:

The social prescribing event was well attended, which demonstrates the range of public and third sector organisations that have a keen interest of this model of support. To kick start the day we were provided with evidence based presentations of pilots throughout the UK which showed that this model has the capacity to work well not only for patients but also to reduce the pressures on already stretched GP and frontline services. Representatives from various organisations were asked to consider the following in their discussion;

  • Values and principles to underpin social prescribing
  • What would the model of social prescribing look like
  • Who should be involved in social prescribing
  • How would we evaluate social prescribing


What are the benefits of social prescribing?

As someone who works in a community based role the benefits of social prescribing seem endless. Firstly, it allows people to access activities/facilities local to them and which ideally work for both them and the community. Secondly, this model will allow communities to be recognised for what they are achieving and could lead to more funding and focus on how we work as a community and hopefully redefine the idea of community, which seems to have been lost over generations.

On a separate level social prescribing to me means ‘choice’. It is a way to focus on an individual’s interests and assets in a holistic manner. It also means people are given the time to talk to someone in detail about what their situation is and what options they have access to that doesn’t focus on medical intervention, or a nine minute consultation with a GP who is already overstretched.

Social prescribing also has the potential to have a more preventative approach to support an individual’s wellbeing. I have worked in this field for around ten years and often I have heard the phrase ‘if I’d known that service was there I might not have ended up where I am today’. For me to hear this from people that have already experienced so much stigma and difficulties we have to ask the questions; have we failed them? Was there more that could have been done from the outset?


Social prescribing in our society:

Another area of interest relating to social prescribing is the community and its/our culture in terms of social acceptance of mental health and isolation. With an increase of young people experiencing mental ill health and loneliness should this be something that is embedded at a younger age? Should we be developing a knowledge of what is available to us from a much younger age? As a society, we tend to have a ‘put up and shut up’ attitude. Often people use phrases like ‘man up’ or ‘get over it’. With a much higher emphasis on mental ill health and wellbeing within our media and in wider society, is this something that could create change?

I recognise that I have asked many questions. Many community, third sector, private and public organisations are already social prescribers. Many have lived experience and maybe this is an option to increase the use of social prescribing. As an advocate of people using their lived experience positively this seems like the ideal platform for people who have experienced addiction, mental ill health, homelessness, domestic abuse and isolation to support and guide others into the necessary services or meaningful activities. The idea of speaking to someone that has lived through this may mean that there is a higher uptake for social subscription. It may also mean that people are more likely to access this as many may feel that this is something they don’t want to bother a GP with or may not feel that they will be taken seriously.

As for funding, this should be seen as an investment not only in people but also our culture and community. Return on social investment has been proven to work, and the opportunity for communities to take a lead should also be given priority by the people that live with, and have experience of.

I don’t know what social prescribing will look like. What I do know is that another approach to support people is needed without them becoming medicalised and removing their choice.

Although I am not a professional of social prescribing, to me this seems like a way forward which allows us to invest in our great communities and our wider services. It may not work for all, but before we start to think about why it wouldn’t, let’s see what results we get.

I was also interested to find that social prescribing referrals can already by made and are being managed by our local VCS organisation VAST, to find out more follow the link below.


If you are interested in further reading around Social Prescribing the documentation that accompanied the event can be found here








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