James Sanderson, our CEO, and Jeremy Hughes, Royal Voluntary Service, reflect on the opportunities social prescribing presents to support the nation in the wake of COVID-19 and how our new programme, Accelerating Innovation, seeks to support national voluntary organisations to unlock this potential. 

Although social prescribing is a relatively new term, improving people’s wellbeing is at the heart of what many national voluntary organisations have always done. Some in the NHS have also long been pioneers of social prescribing, including Dr Sam Etherington in East London and Dr Michael Dixon in Devon. Social prescribing presents a unique opportunity to bring together services, people, and places to support people and communities, especially in the wake of COVID-19.

Many national organisations are already innovators in social prescribing, through physical activity, engagement arts and culture, the natural environment or supporting people with help and advice, including on financial wellbeing. But while much good practice has developed, there’s still a lot to be done to make sure it is consistently supported and shared widely. 

That’s why the National Academy for Social Prescribing, in partnership with Royal Voluntary Service and NHS England and NHS Improvement, is embarking on a new programme to support and enhance the contribution national voluntary organisations make to social prescribing. The commitment of the Accelerating Innovation in Social Prescribing Programme is to help national organisations to innovate and spread their practice to support people across the country, particularly those in disadvantaged communities or experiencing the greatest health inequalities. 

Over the summer we’ve spoken to many national voluntary organisations. What we’ve found is a wealth of resource which they are keen to use more effectively to support those living with physical and mental health challenges. All have changed the way they work as a response to COVID-19. Some of these changes have affected the support they are able to provide, with volunteers and staff unable to deliver many local face-to-face services. Many have also struggled with a drop in income. But at the same time, innovative new approaches have been developed. Much of that innovation has been in online support. An inspiring example is ‘Together with Music’ run by Care England and Intergenerational Music Making. Over 1000 care homes, schools and music groups joined and brought the power of a song performed over Zoom to break through the loneliness created by lockdown. Those who first met through lockdown are staying in touch and meeting in person, creating enduring bonds of friendship and support between young and old.  

National organisations are going to be a critical part of helping communities recover from the pandemic, and in addressing the health inequalities that are still felt across the country. The opportunity now is to build the innovation of the past eighteen months into long term provision, alongside the re-opening of community services.  

To support that, we’ve set up the Accelerating Innovation in social prescribing programme – and would invite you to register to join the Community of Practice.  

Find out more on how you can get involved via our website. 

A photo of James Sanderson, CEO, NASP

James Sanderson is CEO of the National Academy for Social Prescribing 

A photo of Jeremy Hughes, RVS

Jeremy Hughes is a consultant working with Royal Voluntary Service who has more than thirty years experience working at a senior level in national health and care focused voluntary organisations.