Social prescribing- the COVID effect?

I put a post onto LinkedIn recently about re-engaging with social prescribing (SP) and got the biggest reaction I’ve had to any posting, which caused me to think that actually the SP programme is really getting some traction. Could this also be because of COVID and the health and care system recovery with people looking for a demand management structure for their response?

The point of my original post was to argue that the nationally mandated Prescriber Link Worker is a big job- too big and at the same time not big enough…..let me explain further….

The government finally recognised the value of SP in the NHS Long Term Plan, (LTP) this was despite SP running successfully albeit on funny-money and a local basis right across the country, and report after report recommending its mainstream funding, and expansion.

Unfortunately the government’s 7 year austerity experiment which preceded the NHS LTP had dramatically reduced the capacity of voluntary sector provision to respond to increased demand. Just as the NHS was getting its act together in terms of protocols and referral pathways, those services it would wish to refer to, have closed down; from CAB and benefit advice to befriending clubs and even long term condition support organisations.

Back to the Link Workers then, so they need to carry a caseload and develop local referral networks, ensuring any such provision is safe of high quality and outcome focussed. As I say I think these are at least 2 separate jobs, but actually the real challenge in this work is to enable the sector to rebuild itself and provide the infrastructure for self help to occur.

So where would I start if I was running an SP programme:

  1. Establish a referral pathway which, with patients consent, places them in a virtual waiting room with access to a range of self care material: online mental health support, virtual befriending groups, hotline to CAB or Housing support. Allow case-workers including the Link Worker to offer interventions and support without taking full responsibility for the patient as this remains with the patient at all times using self care principles .
  2. Enter into a partnership with a voluntary sector Local Infrastructure Provider (LIP) to host the SP and to co-design a network of case workers and advice and support provision
  3. Make it clear to patients on referral that there is a cost to the provision of services and that they may have to pay towards activity costs such as yoga in order to ensure the programme is sustainable into the future
  4. Join with other to support local authorities to lobby government for the return of the funding lost to them to enable them to support the rebuilding of the voluntary and community sector

Andy June 20

Andy Mills has worked with social prescribing schemes for over 20 years. Give him a call to talk over issues and solutions: 07887 653 280