Every patient in the country would have access to social prescribing schemes on the NHS as readily as they do medical care under new ambitions set out by health secretary Matt Hancock.
As part of this, the National Academy for Social Prescribing has been set up to standardise the quality and range of social prescribing available to patients across the country and increase awareness of the benefits of social prescribing.
Backed by £5 million of government funding, the academy will be led by Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, the outgoing chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, and has been developed in partnership with Sports England, Arts Council England and other voluntary sector partners.
Social prescribing connects patients to community services such as art and singing classes to improve their health, wellbeing and social welfare.
The new academy will bring together partners from health, housing and local government with arts, culture and sporting organisations to maximise the role of social prescribing.
It will focus on developing training and accreditation across sectors, and sharing best practice, as well as looking at new models and sources for funding.
The work of the academy could reduce the burden on the NHS, according to the Department of Health and Social Care.
It argues that in some parts of the country, patients with long-term conditions who have had access to social prescribing link workers have said they are less isolated, attended 47% fewer hospital appointments and made 38% fewer visits to A&E.
Currently, only 60% of CCGs use social prescribing for patients with anxiety, mental health problems and dementia. But the NHS Long Term Plan includes plans to recruit over 1,000 trained social prescribing link workers by 2020 to 2021, with the aim of 900,000 people being referred to social prescribing schemes by then.
Mr Hancock said that the academy is ‘about all of us in health, arts, culture, sport, communities coming together around one simple principle: the prevention is better than cure’.
He continued: ‘Social prescribing is a huge part of this. There are thousands of people up and down the country right now who are already benefiting from activities like reading circles, choir groups and walking football.
‘The National Academy for Social Prescribing will act as a catalyst to bring together the excellent work already being done across the NHS and beyond, building on our NHS Long Term Plan’s ambition to get over 2.5 million more people benefitting from personalised care within the next five years.’
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard added: ‘I’m thrilled to have been appointed as chair of this new academy. Social prescribing has always been so close to my heart as a practising GP. It’s what good GPs have always done in terms of getting the best help and support for our patients beyond the medicines we also provide them with.
‘I’m looking forward to starting work with colleagues from so many sectors to bring social prescribing into the mainstream, to train and educate social prescribers of the future and to establish a great evidence base and raise the profile of this fantastic initiative.’