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Social Prescribing - what is it all about?

This blog article gives a basic understanding of what social prescribing is and the issues with evaluating it’s effectiveness.

Social prescribing as described by the Kings’ Fund allows Doctors and Nurses to refer patients to non clinical services. By non clinical services – this could include things such as debt management/ an appointment with an advisor who has contacts in the community and can signpost patients to services that can help them. Patients can also be referred to wellbeing services, this is not necessarily a mental health service but again linking patients with other people in the community via something as simple as a walking or cooking class.

NHS England talks about social prescribing addressing the holistic needs of a patient. A simple illustration could be a patient who keeps asking to see the doctor for things which are not medical but they don’t know where else to go to for help, some of the issues they may present with include: loneliness, feeling isolated, problems with housing and problems with finances.

Holistic care looks beyond the medical treatment you can give to patients, but looks at what other factors which may be affecting their health, such as money issues leading to a poor diet and them not being able to heat their home.

The role of social prescribing is to address the issues that don’t have a pharmacological treatment and is a way of formally recognising that just because you are not giving the patient a medication, it does not mean you are not helping them because you are referring them to a community to service, which can often times provide what you can’t.

My own experience of social prescribing has been mainly positive, patients have felt they have been helped by the services. In some cases , the main disappointing thing is when these services are withdrawn due to funding issues. The truth about when this happens is that it is not just the patient losing out but as a clinician you are also losing out.

In regards to the assessing the effectiveness of social prescribing, whilst scouring the internet for papers to support what is continually being valued as a great resource. It became apparent as noted by one systematic review that the studies are often small scale, outcomes are hard to measure and finally study design and reporting were thought to be poor.

The issue is with more emphasis on being able to justify how money is being spent in the NHS in order to keep this valuable resource it is important that future studies assessing the effectiveness of social prescribing can provide more reliable results especially those relating to things like the cost benefit ratio.

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