The number of workers trained to prescribe social activities, like exercise groups and art classes, to GP patients who don’t need pills, is set to rise under NHS England plans.
The aim is that ‘link workers’ will support GPs and reduce their workload.
A link worker’s role is to help patients find suitable community activities to improve their health and wellbeing.
The NHS says more than 1,000 will be recruited by 2020-21. In the long term, they want link workers to handle around 900,000 appointments a year.
It is thought that a significant number of appointments at GP surgeries are not directly related to medical conditions.
Instead, many patients are anxious or lonely or need support with managing a long-term condition. Some just need encouragement to join an exercise group and lose weight.
James Sanderson, NHS England’s Director of Personalised Care, said 2.5 million people would benefit by 2024. He said:
Social prescribing is an important component of the NHS comprehensive model of personalised care and there is emerging evidence that it can lead to a range of positive health and wellbeing outcomes for people, such as improved quality of life and emotional wellbeing.
The aim is that social prescribing schemes lead to a substantial reduction in the use of NHS services, including GP attendances.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chairwoman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said the move was “incredibly welcome”.
She said ensuring that GPs have “good, easy access to people who can link patients with classes or groups in the community, which could be of more benefit than any medicine…” is something doctors have been calling for for a long time.
BBC News. (2019). More ‘social prescribers’ to ease pressure on GPs. Accessible: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-46999922. Last Accessed: 28 January 2019.