"The harder you look at social prescribing, the more effective it looks" Stories of connection, financial resilience and transformation from the second annual Social Prescribing Show
by Rosie Stephen, Media Lead, NASP
9th March not only marked #SocialPrescribingDay, but was also our second annual Social Prescribing Show. Hosted by the Southbank Centre, it was a chance for medical professionals, link workers, voluntary sector staff and funders to discuss how we can work together to push social prescribing forward, to improve the health of our communities in the UK and worldwide.
This year, we were delighted to welcome Charlotte Osborn-Forde, NASP's incoming CEO, to give the keynote speech. With many years of hands-on experience working in social prescribing, Charlotte kicked off the day looking back at all that had been achieved in the sector so far.
Highlighting that, in the last four years, 1.6 million people have been helped by social prescribing through primary care alone, Charlotte said:
This an important day to reflect on where we are right now as a movement, and the very significant progress made. Let’s not forget that it was only in 2019 that social prescribing was made a core element of healthcare in this country - a hugely ambitious, innovative and pioneering step forward not just for England but globally.
There were further discussions of the global development of social prescribing. The ‘Addressing worldwide challenges’ panel showcased social prescribing progress around the world, including in Singapore, Canada, Australia and Austria. Through the Global Social Prescribing Alliance, social prescribers are able to connect and share best practise, to deliver the best possible service to communities – no matter what language they speak.
Bringing things closer to home, a panel chaired by two of our own regional leads, Tom Watkins and Esther Watts, presented a vision for better connected community healthcare, while warning the audience that many teams are at capacity.
Dr Dagmar Zeuner, Director of Public Health at South West London Integrated Care System, said: “Social Prescribing Link Workers are advocates. They know their communities and they have the experience that allows them to ask for what their communities need…. but that’s not the end of the story. We need more staff on the ground.”
Jayne Hoarty, Social Prescriber at One Knowsley, echoed this, pointing out that, by connecting healthcare and voluntary sectors, social prescribing services often act as the safety net for communities:
“If One Knowsley were to close our doors tomorrow, the focus on resilience would be lost, and the connection between primary care and the community would diminish.”
Shiv Sharma has first-hand experience of the importance of this connection. Sitting on the health inequalities panel as an actor, facilitator and former addict, he was able to give a unique perspective.
He said: “Addressing addiction through purely a clinical setting was not the answer for me. Taking a whole-person approach is our best way forward…[When tackling health inequalities] it’s important to know what is already out there. There’s lots of untapped talent and help in the communities.”
Viv – one of participants in the Dance for Health session, who gave a performance on the day – was referred to the class for rehabilitation from a problem with her ankle. She explained how dance has not only helped with her physical health but also her sense of community:
“I’ve had three badly sprained and one broken ankle. I have felt that during the classes it’s really improved my balance. But it’s more than that, it’s a little oasis in the week. When I come out the class I feel so much lighter.”
Despite thousands of people like Shiv and Viv voicing their enthusiasm for social prescribing, and a growing bank of evidence for it, ongoing investment is clearly crucial.
On a panel about sustainable funding, Julie McCarthy from Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership made the point that evidence and robust data collection are integral to securing repeat funding:
“We need to make the case for the financial value of what we do. Data is key. It’s increasingly part of our everyday work, to help us and our funders understand health inequalities and where money is best spent.”
Sarah Murphy from the Money and Pensions Service made the point that financial security is a concern for those being prescribed, and that that part of the service must be protected. She said: “Financial wellbeing is an integral part of social prescribing, and for that reason the places that are there to support people in that need to be poverty proofed.”
Throughout the day, panellists shared examples of successful social prescribing initiatives, and highlighted the rapidly growing evidence base. In Charlotte’s words, “The harder you look at Social Prescribing, the more effective it looks.”
Across the country, thousands of other people and organisations celebrated Social Prescribing Day. This included a number of politicians.
Steve Brine MP, Chair of the Health and Social Care Select Committee, recorded a message supporting the day and highlighting the role of social prescribing in prevention.
Steve Barclay MP, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, said:
Social prescribing has the potential to transform healthcare, help people live healthier lives and cut NHS waiting lists.
Research shows that taking part in a physical activity – like singing in a choir or doing a run – can improve your quality of life.
Whether it is encouraging people with dementia to join choirs or putting the isolated in touch with befriending groups or gardening clubs, I passionately believe this non-medical support can make a huge difference.
There have already been more than 1.6 million referrals to social prescribing services, and the NHS has recruited more than 3,000 link workers to help connect people to the service they need – three times the target set in the NHS Long-Term Plan.
This Social Prescribing Day is an opportunity to celebrate the work being done by the National Academy for Social Prescribing, and the link workers, and providers across the country who are helping people with mild mental illness, dementia, and those who are isolated, to lead healthier lives.