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What makes a good Social Prescriber?

Link Workers are champions of social prescribing. Proactive and flexible, they empower people to take control of their wellbeing journey, offering continuous support and motivation along the way. But what exactly makes a good Social Prescriber?


Social prescribing link workers are at the core of most social prescribing schemes. Building on personal and community assets, they enable people to have greater control over their health and lives.

Social prescribers reduce health inequalities by supporting people to unravel complex issues affecting wellbeing. They support people to develop skills, friendships and resilience through involvement in community groups.

Link workers are most commonly pioneered by voluntary sector organisations. Yet, they often work in partnership with GP practices and other referral agencies. Given the nature of their work, a good social prescriber needs person-centred skills and attributes. In general, these entail active listening skills, empathy, and an innate ability to support people.

Why are social prescribers important?

According to NHS England, there are many existing schemes that signpost people to community activities. These are referred to as ‘active signposting’ schemes.

Active signposting schemes involve existing staff in GPs, libraries and other referral agencies. Using directories and local knowledge, they signpost people to community groups and services. Such an approach is ideal for those confident enough to navigate their own path.

On the flip side, some individuals lack the confidence and/or knowledge to do so on their own. In this case, the personalised support of link workers becomes essential. Social prescribers give these individuals much-needed time and confidence by:

  • addressing root causes affecting their clients' health and wellbeing;
  • co-developing a plan to tackle these underlying issues;
  • being present every step of the way as individuals navigate wellbeing goals.

Key attributes of a good social prescriber

Any individual working in the social and health care sector should have a set of basic skills and knowledge. For social prescribers, in particular, these may include:

  • good working knowledge of community services in a given locality;
  • good IT skills to research local groups online;
  • adequate writing skills to develop plans and reports.

Unlike a primary healthcare professional, however, there are no formal qualifications to be a social prescriber. Prior experience in social and/or healthcare settings is ideal. Still, this can either be in a professional or voluntary capacity.

A skilled link worker is non-clinically trained. Given the person-centred ethos of the role, it is more important for link workers to have the right values and behaviours. These include empathic qualities, effective listening skills, and the ability to put people at ease and gain their trust.

Social prescribers spend time with a person to work out their preferences, strengths and goals. Their role is to motivate and support. They are here to empower people to take control of their wellbeing journey.

For one, link workers have to be proactive. They must dedicate their time and effort to the service user. There is a need to refrain from making assumptions about their wants and needs. A related attribute would then be flexibility. Social prescribers need to be open to revisiting personalised plans. Ensuring these are tailored to the changing needs of clients and the local area is important.

In this case, link workers also need a strong ability to identify and assess risk. That is, having an acute awareness of when it may be appropriate to refer people back to primary healthcare. For instance, where there is a mental health need beyond the scope of their role and demands a qualified practitioner.

Given the complex varied circumstances of those they will encounter, social prescribers ought to have a non-judgemental approach:

  • Getting along with people from all backgrounds and communities
  • Respecting all lifestyles and diversity

A key struggle link workers will face in their work is local gaps in service provision. In other words, a lack of community services to refer clients to. Social prescribers thus need problem-solving and innovative skills to circumvent these obstacles.

For example, a study by the University of Sheffield found link workers using novel strategies to address gaps in services. This meant developing self-sustaining groups around their service users’ interests. One of these included a choir for young people after recognising the underrepresentation of this group within their service.

The study also concluded highly-skilled link workers as the key to the success of the intervention. Link workers support people in a way that inspires trust and confidence. They operate from a strengths-based model to motivate individuals to reach their potential. They are committed to reducing health inequalities by working to reach people from all communities.

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