GPs could prescribe music to patients under social prescribing plans

Doctors could prescribe 'personal playlists' for patients with dementia under plans to expand 'social prescribing of arts and culture' set out by health and social care secretary Matt Hancock.

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock
Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock

In a speech at a social prescribing conference on Tuesday, Mr Hancock will reinforce his call for a shift in the focus of the NHS towards prevention with a call for greater use of social prescribing.

The health and social care secretary will say that social prescribing can be a useful tool to 'tackle ageing, loneliness, mental health and other long-term conditions' - arguing that prescribing of arts and culture should become an 'indispensible tool' for doctors to help patients recover.

His comments follow a pledge from prime minister Theresa May last month that every primary care network in England would have access to social prescribing by 2023.

Social prescribing

The NHS will establish an 'academy for social prescribing' to become 'the champion of, build the research base, and explain the benefits of social prescribing across the board from the arts to physical exercise to nutritional advice and community classes', Mr Hancock will say.

The academy will be 'an organisation where GPs and other frontline health workers can receive training and support, where they can learn what works, and what’s available in their communities'.

Mr Hancock will say: 'Social prescription reduces over-prescription of drugs. It can lead to the same or better outcomes for patients without popping pills. And it saves the NHS money. Because many of these social cures are free.'

GPonline reported earlier this year that one in four GPs now use social prescribing regularly - referring patients to schemes such as walking clubs. Social prescribing is one of NHS England's 10 'high impact actions', identified to help free up GPs' time to deliver more clinical care.

Patient demand

NHS England says social prescribing can help reduce demand for GP and other appointments and improve quality of life for patients and carers.

The health and social care secretary's comments come just a day after he set out plans to rebalance the NHS towards more preventive care, drawing criticism from doctors who warned that continuing cuts to public health funding would undermine the move.

In the speech on Tuesday at a King's Fund event, Mr Hancock will say: 'We’ve been fostering a culture that’s popping pills and Prozac. When what we should be doing is more prevention and perspiration.

'Social prescribing can help us combat over-medicalising people, dishing out drugs when it isn’t what’s best for the patient. And it won’t solve their problem.'


The health and social care secretary is expected to outline plans to use social prescribing to bring people into contact with libraries and music, with plans for a 'national academy for arts on prescription'.

He will say on Tuesday that the government understands how 'music can help people with dementia'.

'How it can reduce the need for medication,' Mr Hancock will say. 'How it can reduce agitation and combative behaviour. How it can reduce the need for restraints and help dementia patients and their families cope better with symptoms. Personal playlists could offer a simple solution to this growing problem.

'We should value the arts because they’re essential to our health and wellbeing.  And that’s not me as a former culture secretary, who’s spent a lot of time around luvvies, saying it.

'It’s scientifically proven. Access to the arts improves people’s mental and physical health. It makes us happier and healthier. So that’s what I want to talk about today: how we can harness the incredible power of the arts to improve the nation’s health and wellbeing.'

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