Our health services have reached a crossroads. Despite the resources that are being committed, long-term disease is increasing, and GP services are being placed under increasing pressure.
In short, alternatives are needed that go beyond conventional ‘treatment and tablets’ approaches to medicine.
In recent years, a solution has been identified that focuses on preventing people getting diseases and helping them recover quicker.
After all, research shows that not every visit to the GP requires a medical prescription. Often the solution lies in how people lead their lives – in other words, finding ways to improve their overall health and wellbeing.
This might involve healthcare professionals referring patients to a range of practical, social and emotional support, such as exercise classes or social groups.
This approach is known as social prescribing.
Institute for Social Prescribing
Against this backdrop, the ‘pop-up’ Institute for Social Prescribing was formed in 2019 to accelerate the spread and adoption of social prescribing across the region, operating until June 2021.
The Institute was a collaboration between the South West Academic Health Science Network (South West AHSN), public health consultant Professor Sir Muir Gray, NHS England National Clinical Lead for social prescribing Dr Michael Dixon and a range of leading practitioners in the field.
As part of its remit, the Institute worked with a set of ‘test beds’ across the South West to research, evaluate, support and spread innovative practice.
Test bed case studies
While COVID-19 disrupted plans for the rollout of numerous social prescribing programmes, the positioning of existing teams between health and care services, communities and the voluntary sector meant they were uniquely placed to support vulnerable people during the initial stage of the pandemic.
Through the Institute, the South West AHSN seized on this opportunity to gain insights from these programmes. They produced a series of case studies (see below) to examine these programmes in action, detailing the history and local context as well as the approach and impact for people, communities, professionals and commissioners.
Frome – connecting community activism with social prescribing.
When the COVID-19 crisis hit, the team at Health Connections Mendip, a Somerset-based social prescribing project, felt confident the community would lead the response locally.
Ilfracombe – taking a place-based partnership approach to social prescribing.
Starting at street level, in parishes and towns, the social infrastructure and relationships built by One Northern Devon enabled rapid community-led volunteer support to develop for those affected by COVID-19.
St Austell – transforming general practice through social prescribing.
The repurposing of an existing mobile app, systematic prioritisation of people needing support and partnership working enabled St Austell Healthcare, a general practice in Cornwall, to respond rapidly to meet the needs of vulnerable people during the COVID-19 crisis.
Cullompton – developing social prescribing for children and young people.
In 2019 the town’s GP practice realised that more needed to be done for children and young people in the town. They led the development of a Youth Forum, bringing together young people with other local agencies and charities.
Kingsbridge – building community assets for social prescribing.
In Kingsbridge, the numbers of people being supported through social prescribing continues to grow as more people and professionals become aware of what it is and the potential it offers.
The South West AHSN also produced a comprehensive insight report, which focused on the work of the Institute for Social Prescribing in the year up to September 2020.
As well as featuring the five test-bed case studies, the document shares learning about the conditions which enable social prescribing to take place. It also identifies a set of eight commonalities – referred to as ‘building blocks’ – which can be applied to accelerate the impact and spread of social prescribing programmes.
If you have questions about Institute for Social Prescribing, which operated between 2019 and 2021, please contact the South West AHSN (firstname.lastname@example.org).