Dr Chris Mimnagh: Social prescribing could become a sore point for GPs

The term 'social prescribing' implies a doctor-knows-best approach - renaming it could help clarify that it's really about GPs empowering patients, says Dr Chris Mimnagh.

The RCGP has recently come out in favour of social prescribing. I am as fond of the royal college as the next man, possibly more so. But social prescribing is just plain wrong.

The idea that general practice can have an impact on the wider community by employing individuals who are then able to direct people seeking to access support to improve health and wellbeing is correct and a good thing.

This function is not what I trained to be a doctor, and subsequently a GP, to carry out, so it is proper that this activity is not delivered by a medic.

Therefore I reached the conclusion that calling it social prescribing is just plain wrong.

What we are really talking about is social resource empowerment (SoRE, if you like). This is matching individuals with the resources available across the community in such a way as to increase their activation levels, which will then result in them taking more proactive steps in their health and wellbeing management.

Retaining social prescribing as a name retains the concept that somebody else, a doctor even, knows best what might suit an individual. It retains the idea that you have to ask or seek permission from others to consume that resource.

The use of patients' data to identify those social resource activities that may be applicable to them is not quite a paternalistic model or ‘Big Brother’, but it certainly has a feel of a maternalistic system - perhaps ‘big mother’.

Here's my suggestion: by all means signpost an individual's first contact with social resource empowerment from your practice, but thereafter draw a clear distinction between your medical practice and access to to these social resources.

You may even wish to set up a station in your practice which directs individuals to social resource empowerment, this would of course be known as the SoRE Point.

  • Dr Chris Mimnagh is a GP in Liverpool and head of clinical innovation liaison and deployment at The Innovation Agency, the academic health science network for the north-west coast.

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