GPs urged to 'stand up and campaign' against social prescribing cuts

GPs need to fight back against cuts to social prescribing schemes driven by pressure on local authority budgets, the RCGP vice chair has warned.

Professor Martin Marshall (Photo: Pete Hill)
Professor Martin Marshall (Photo: Pete Hill)

Professor Martin Marshall told the Londonwide LMCs conference last week that social prescribing schemes had been 'shutting down because they are run by local government, and local government doesn't have the resources'.

His comments came in response to a Greenwich GP who told the conference he was not sure how he would cope 'if it wasn't for social prescribing and signposting people with complex problems'.

An RCGP report last week, meanwhile, said that placing dedicated social prescribing staff in every practice could ease GP workload. The report cited evidence that demand on GP services dropped by 28% on average following a referral to a social prescribing scheme.

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How social prescribing can help GPs

However, pressure on local authority budgets is limiting what they can afford to commission. The Greenwich GP said he was concerned about 'huge funding cuts across public health and social services' - and GPonline reported last month that most practices had experienced cuts in public health services commissioned from them.

Professor Marshall said social prescribing schemes had not emerged unscathed. He warned that 'a lot' of social prescribing initiatives had been ended because of a shortage of local authority funding.

Social prescribing

He warned: 'We need to stand up and we need to campaign for it. We need to say this is really important. It’s not a very easy argument to make at the moment because the evidence on social prescribing is growing - it’s getting better - but it’s not very strong.

'It seems to me the real challenge that I have as a GP is that if someone comes in to see me who’s depressed the easiest and quickest and cheapest thing to do is to give them Prozac. The more expensive and more complicated thing to do is to refer them to a social group of some sort. I think GPs need to make a much stronger argument that even if it costs more, even if it is more complicated we need to adopt a different approach.'

Use of social prescribing is among the 10 high impact actions NHS England has urged GPs to consider to tackle soaring workload - with practices expected to implement at least two in 2018/19.

A Local Government Association spokeswoman told GPonline earlier this month that budget reductions meant that councils were increasingly being forced to take difficult decisions about key services - 'including stopping them altogether'.

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