The DHSC said the funding would allow GPs to refer more patients to social activities and other types of support to improve health and reduce demand on the NHS.
Some 23 social prescribing projects in England will receive a share of the funding to either extend existing schemes or set up new ones.
The funding will come from the Health and Wellbeing Fund, part of a programme of government investment in the voluntary sector. The projects will be fully funded in their first year and additional joint funding from local commissioners will be agreed for the following two years.
Last week GPonline revealed that a quarter of GPs regularly use social prescribing and only 10% say they are not involved with social prescribing in any way. Social prescribing is one of NHS England's 10 'high impact actions', identified to help free up GPs' time to deliver more clinical care.
Earlier this year the RCGP called for dedicated social prescribing staff to be integrated into all practices. The college's analysis of the 10 high impact actions concluded that social prescribing was among the most effective at reducing GP workload.
Some of the schemes to receive the new funding include:
- a new street games scheme across Sheffield, Southampton, Luton and Brighton and Hove, focusing on socially excluded young people aged 5 to 25
- a Dudley Council project to expand support for people with a very high dependency on A&E
- a new Citizens Advice North Oxfordshire and South Northamptonshire scheme to support those who are lonely or socially isolated in deprived rural areas.
Care minister Caroline Dinenage said: ‘The voluntary and community sector has such a vital role to play in working with our health system to provide the kind of support that you can’t receive at your local GP surgery or hospital.
‘This new funding will mean that many more people receive support that looks at their needs holistically, enabling them to live happier, more independent lives. I look forward to seeing these projects put their plans into action and provide support to hundreds of thousands more people.’
RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘This funding initiative sounds very interesting, but we’re keen to see how this promise is going to translate into frontline GP services.
‘We requested a meeting with Mr Hancock two weeks ago and are looking forward to hearing when we can sit down to discuss this, as well as the other ways in which we believe general practice must be properly supported and resourced.’