What is Social Prescribing?

Social prescribing is a way GPs, nurses, link workers and other health and care professionals can refer people to a range of local services to meet their non-clinical needs. The aim is to take a more holistic approach to a person's health and wellbeing by focusing on what matters to them. Social prescribing is a key component of Universal Personalised Care and its rollout is actively supported by the Long Term Plan NHS England.

Why is it necessary?

According to NHS England, around half of GP appointments are not directly related to medical conditions. In fact, many people turn to their GP when they find themselves in debt, a personal relationship breaks down or they’re lonely, which can create an unnecessary burden on the already stretched NHS.  

Local health services are understaffed and crying out for support, especially in the wake of the global pandemic. As a result, there’s a need to give health professionals additional tools to help their patients in the long term. Social prescribing is one way to lessen the load placed on health professionals.

How it works

Social prescribing enables healthcare professionals and/or link workers to refer patients to community services. It's a way patients without medical needs can get support whilst the healthcare professionals keep their own time free for patients with immediate health concerns.  

To ensure no one falls through the cracks, link workers are increasingly being employed to bolster the resources in GP practices and throughout Primary Care Networks. A link worker holds a non-clinical role and provides support to those experiencing complex circumstances that could impact their overall wellbeing. After an initial assessment, a link worker will often refer a person to a community group that could be of benefit.  

Most referrals are made to charities, which run activities to promote inclusion, reduce isolation, and improve physical and mental health. Some organisations can also offer helpful advice regarding legal matters, which clinicians are ill-equipped to provide.  

Community services support people's non-medical needs in ways health professionals can't

Who is it for?

Social prescribing has been shown to be effective in supporting people with varying degrees of need. Whether accessing basic necessities like food and clothing, or complex legal support around debt or immigration matters, a robust social prescribing program can support everyone.  

Those who could benefit most from these schemes include people who experience mental health concerns, people with additional needs, people with an inactive lifestyle and those who are isolated. During the peak of the pandemic, many Covid-specific programs were initiated to help those who were shielding remain as connected to others as possible.

Why is it becoming popular?

Social prescribing isn’t necessarily new, but schemes have been gaining popularity over the last few years. The NHS’s 2019 Long Term Plan pledged, “Over 1,000 trained social prescribing link workers will be in place by the end of 2020/21 rising further by 2023/24, with the aim that over 900,000 people are able to be referred to social prescribing schemes by then.”  More recently, the NHS included social prescribing as one of the 6 components of Universal Personalised Care.  

Social prescribing schemes are part of the recent rise in community-centred health. Integrating these types of schemes promotes a holistic way to address the social determinants of health by empowering people to take more ownership of their wellbeing.  

A person's wellbeing goes beyond their physical health and includes many social determinants


A study conducted by Wokingham Borough Council found that residents’ wellbeing improved by an average of 26% after being referred to a community organisation via social prescribing software, Joy. In Shropshire, a study assessing the effectiveness of social prescribing for a variety of needs from weight loss to loneliness was found to be highly effective. Service users rated their satisfaction with the experience a whopping 4.8/5!

Although these results are encouraging, more data to support and strengthen the evidence base for these types of schemes is required. This is one of the ways social prescribing platforms like Joy can help. Joy not only provides a multi-function system to assist link workers with their efforts, but also generates valuable data to prove the efficacy of schemes. The more obvious the benefits, the more widely adopted these kinds of community-centred practices will become.

Explore our social prescribing solutions

What's next?

The future of social prescribing looks bright, but there is no way to ignore the fact that covid has decimated the budgets of many community organisations. The ecosystem of community organisations that so many depend on needs to stay intact for social prescribing schemes to have a sustainable impact.  

The good news is that the government recently pledged more than £360 million for charities in England. This will hopefully ensure link workers have suitable options for social prescribing long into the future. One thing that’s become increasingly clear since the start of the pandemic is that social prescribing schemes are a necessary component in keeping both our NHS and our population healthy.

Interested in learning more about social prescribing? Check out some of our case studies.

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If you are a local service hoping to find out more information about Joy please contact support@thejoyapp.com

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