On Prescription

Now that social prescribing has become a familiar term, it is easy to forget that just a few years ago prescribing was still all about medicine and pharmacies. Maybe more than anything else, social prescribing embodies a gradual move to more preventative healthcare and healthcare going beyond the immediate and beyond the physical.

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

When social prescribing was first trialled as an experiment in integrated healthcare at Bromley By Bow Centre in East London, its founders may little have imagined that we would nowbe marking Social Prescribing Day – or maybe they saw straight away that this would run and run. They won the RSA Albert Medal in 2022 for their work.

Growth has been rapid. I remember learning about social prescribing back in 2019, while bid writing for a charity. Then, coverage was uneven across the UK, with some clinical commissioning groups actively rolling out social prescribing but others still making plans. Pandemic and lockdowns and such unsettled times for the public sector and NHS have done little to slow social prescribing’s surge since then. It has drawn together bodies like Arts Council England and Sport England to work with the Department of Health, and at local level thousands of link workers form a considerable network to connect patients and activities. I’ve seen this in action as I’m now an arts for wellbeing practitioner.

It isn’t all plain sailing. There’s always a chance that something growing so quickly could become unwieldy. There are issues with funding, as while social prescribing helps activity providers reach participants, it does not itself fund the activities. Then there’s the real need for cohesive and comprehensive publicity. One survey asked GPs about barriers to social prescribing : 72% cited lack of awareness of programmes and activities. This may be partly because social prescribing is so very diverse, covering so many different activities and providers.

There may be challenges, but these only show social prescribing’s scale and impact – for obviously there will be challenges for any movement that seeks to respond to individual needs on such a scale. It follows that social prescribing also has huge scope to enrich and enhance lives. At a time when everyday healthcare is under such pressure, the expansion of social prescribing demonstrates a real commitment to doing far more than just “getting by”. It recognizes the many factors that shape health and wellbeing. It strengthens community at a time when community is ever more fragmented and areas have become dormitories. It looks at the big picture, but also at the individual, and draws the two together. For the creative health sector, it embodies a unique opportunity to integrate further into healthcare. For patients, it opens doors.

Could you share any thoughts in Medley’s Facebook group? Go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002 Thank you.

Published by medleyisobel

My name is Isobel and I run Medley, an online initiative sharing art, nature and music for health and wellbeing.

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