NHS to recruit 1,000 social prescribers by 2021 to ease GP workload

NHS England has announced plans to recruit 1,000 social prescribing 'link workers' into general practice by 2021, in a bid to slash non-medical appointments by almost 1m each year.

Exercise classes (Photo: iStock.com/Squaredpixels)
Exercise classes (Photo: iStock.com/Squaredpixels)

GPonline reported last week that every GP practice in England was expected to join a primary care network by June this year under proposals set out in the NHS long-term plan. Around 1,400 of these networks are expected to be formed - and each will have access to one of the social prescribing link workers by April 2021, NHS England has said.

Social prescribing staff will help patients access a range of non-medical services. NHS England cited emerging evidence that 'community services such as exercise or art classes, history groups and even ballroom dancing can boost health and wellbeing more than dishing out pills or other treatments'.

The plans - due to be approved by the NHS England board later this week - will also ‘free up GPs to deal with patients who really need them’, health service leaders say. They predict that social prescribing staff will handle 900,000 patients appointments per year from 2023/24.

GP appointments

NHS England said that it is estimated that around half of all GP appointments are not directly related to medical conditions.

Dr Nikita Kanani, NHS England’s acting medical director of primary care, said: ‘We will be recruiting a substantial number of people to support general practitioners over the next five years, to help ease the workload and pressures that we know general practice is under. But we see the network of social prescribers as a fundamental change to the way primary care operates and vital to the future. Recruiting social prescriber link workers will be a priority target.’

GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘Every day, GPs see a large number of patients with a broad range of health conditions. But often, those who come to see their GP will have complex underlying reasons for doing so, not always medical and often linked to social and domestic circumstances which affect their physical and mental wellbeing.

‘Good access to professionals who can link patients to local services and activities – such as community support groups and classes – can be of great benefit to patients, actively involving them in their own care and improving their longer-term wellbeing. This should also allow GPs to focus their time and expertise on treating people’s more immediate or acute health needs.’

Social prescribing

Social prescribing has become increasingly popular among GPs in recent years, with one in four saying they regularly use it as a referral method.

More personalised care is one of the five major changes promised by the government as part of the NHS long-term plan over the next five years.

Dr Vautrey added: ‘GPs and their teams are under a huge amount of pressure to deliver high quality care to a rising population with increasingly complex needs, and therefore it is vital, now more than ever, that patients are able to see the right healthcare or support professional for them within a reasonable timeframe.’

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