Three great examples of how social prescribing works in practice

As part of our focus on how self-care and preventative health can reduce the burden on the NHS, we’ve uncovered some excellent examples of social prescribing that are already making a difference

New health secretary Matt Hancock used one of his first speeches in office to back a dramatic expansion of social prescribing to relieve the pressure on the NHS and improve patients’ chances of recovering from illness.

He became the latest and most high-profile supporter if this new movement in health care.

So what is social prescribing? According to NHS England:

Social prescribing is a means of enabling GPs and other frontline healthcare professionals to refer people to ‘services’ in their community instead of offering only medicalised solutions.

These services could be anything from art classes to singing groups, walking clubs to gardening.

Already nearly half of all clinical commissioning groups in England are investing in social prescribing programmes. They are thought to be particularly beneficial for people who are lonely, who have mild mental health issues and those who struggle to engage effectively with services.

Three ways it is used in the real world

In our recent focus on wellbeing, self-care and reducing the burden on the NHS, we have come across a number of good examples that are worth sharing.

1. GP prescribed parkruns

What is it? GP surgeries are being encouraged to partner with local running events under an initiative launched by the Royal College of General Pracitioners and parkrun UK

What do they say? ‘Parkrun is a diverse, fun and free way of getting our patients up and moving about, and empowering them to make basic lifestyle changes in the best interests of their long-term health and wellbeing’ – RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard

How is it working? Dr Ollie Hart, whose medical centre helped set up Graves parkrun in Sheffield in 2012, said: ‘The close connection between our practice and our local parkrun has had the biggest health impact of anything I have done in my career.’

2. Going Local in West Sussex

What is it? Going Local runs out of six GPs surgeries, and is hosted by Adur and Worthing Councils in partnership with West Sussex County Council and Coastal West Sussex Clinical Commissioning Group. It began as a two-year pilot in 2016 and now has funding until September 2020.

What do they say? ‘The data is telling us that through the project people feel better connected, more active and able to give and keep learning. These are key elements for building resilience and wellbeing’ – Councillor Val Turner, Worthing Borough Council

How is it working? More than 1,000 people have been referred by their GPs for help in combating problems in their personal lives. Official evaluation shows that the project has not only helped people improve their wellbeing, but it has freed up more time for doctors to concentrate on patients with purely medical issues.

3. £1m investment in Cornwall

What is it? A social prescribing scheme in Cornwall being funded by the Department of Health and Cornwall Council. It enables GPs to prescribe activities like volunteering, group learning, gardening, befriending, cookery, healthy eating advice and a range of sports.

What do they say? ‘We have seen impressive results from introducing social prescribing into our practice. Our social prescriber can offer the time which GPs don’t have to discuss with patients what matters to them, and give them the confidence and support necessary to address difficulties in their daily life or make and sustain a change in lifestyle’ – GP Dr Stewart Smith

How is it working? ‘There is a range of emerging evidence which shows that social prescribing can lead to improvements in areas such as quality of life and emotional wellbeing, mental and general wellbeing, and levels of depression and anxiety and have also led to a reduction in the use of NHS services’ – Sally Hawken, portfolio holder for Children and Wellbeing & Public Health


If you are interested in our work with Clinical Commissioning Groups and public health teams in the areas of preventative health care including social prescribing, contact Qa Research Richard Bryan, Managing Director: