Social prescribing can help health professionals refer people to local, non-clinical services, such as volunteering, gardening or art activities, which can help health and wellbeing, and has gained traction in the NHS in recent years.
Now a research team, led by Associate Professor of Health Services Research, Dr Kerryn Husk, will investigate if and how social prescribing might be broadened and offered outside of the NHS, enhancing its use as a preventative tool.
The project, a collaboration with the University of Sheffield, is funded by UK Research and Innovation. It focuses on the voluntary and community sector, bringing together a broad range of people with experience of designing, delivering and accessing social prescribing, to collect information about self-referrals in the community.
The research team will establish how the systems work, how these structures interact and how to best support them to offer activities in the best way for individuals to attend and improve their health.
A key outcome will be a detailed system map and guidance for voluntary and community sectors involved in social prescribing. Researchers will ensure that any guidance produced reaches those in a position to benefit from it, and influences service changes for the good of communities. Further projects will then be planned to ensure that the guidance is as useful and impactful as possible.
Dr Husk said: “Social prescribing has received more backing from policy makers, politicians and the NHS, which is great, as research shows that it really can make a difference to people’s lives. But there is limited evidence on the how the voluntary and care sector, which are often involved in delivering interventions, are impacted by these referrals.
“The current process of social prescribing sees an individual go to their GP, who then puts them in touch with a link worker, who ‘prescribes’ an activity or occupation.
“This is where the new project comes in – we want to see if and how we can develop new pathways for social prescribing, that can help individuals, communities and the voluntary and community sector deliver work at ground level. There’s a lot to consider but, as a team with extensive expertise in delivering, researching, and being part of social prescribing, we feel there is an opportunity to develop a more formal pathway into existing community-based social prescribing activities, which we know have health and wellbeing effects, but without the heavy reliance on the health service ‘scaffolding’.”