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PenCLAHRC's take on social prescribing in BMJ Opinion

Posted on July 19th 2017

Social prescribing has the potential to address many of the factors that perpetuate illness, decrease quality of life and add to health care costs – such as social isolation, inactivity and smoking. It has expanded the options available to GPs who have patients requiring financial, housing and other social advice alongside their medical care.

In a piece published in BMJ Opinion, PenCLAHRC Research Fellow Dr Kerryn Husk warns that, in order for social prescribing to reach its full potential and make a true difference to patients, more needs to be done to understand what works, for whom, and in what circumstances.

In the article Kerryn highlights the potential of social prescribing and draws attention to instances where it has not achieved what it set out to do. An example is the exercise referral scheme (ERS), described as “all but a panacea a decade ago”. He states that, because ERS were adopted across the UK before its effectiveness was properly assessed, the outcome was that for a substantial number of patients ERS offered benefit that was not optimised:

“This sits at the heart of what needs to be done with social prescribing. Greater attention needs to be paid to how it can address individualisation and be responsiveness to the needs of different groups of patients and care providers – one size does not necessarily fit all.”

More research into the delivery and effectiveness of social prescribing could not be more timely – there is a policy push in the UK to see social prescribing as part of the ‘new models of care’ which aim to contribute to health creation and reduce pressure on the NHS through better healthcare utilisation.

Kerryn comments:

“We must seize the opportunity we have now to develop a programme of research alongside the implementation of social prescribing …. so as to understand which patients can accrue benefits (improved social functioning, disease prevention, fewer admissions) and from which interventions.”

He also suggests that there needs to be a deepened understanding of each patient’s “nuanced interactions” with the professionals and advisors they encounter on their social prescription journey, adding:

“If we want to harness the great work now being undertaken in community and primary care settings up and down the UK, we need to understand what works in social prescribing, for whom, and in what circumstances.”

You can read the full article in BMJ Opinion.

For more information on Kerryn's research on social prescribing, visit the Effective Mechanisms for Social Prescribing project webpage.

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