One in four GPs regularly use social prescribing, survey shows

Almost a quarter of GPs are regularly using social prescribing to refer patients with social, emotional or practical needs to non-clinical services, a GPonline survey suggests.

GP consultation (Photo: iStock)
GP consultation (Photo: iStock)

The figures suggest that social prescribing is continuing to gain traction in general practice. Over 23% of the 391 GPs who responded to the GPonline poll said they or their colleagues used social prescribing regularly - compared to 19% in 2015 and 20% in 2017.

A further 21% said they had referred using this method at least once before, while 22% said they would refer in this way if they had more information about the services available. A total of 14% said they were open to the idea but had never tried it.

Only 10% said they were not involved in social prescribing in any way. Meanwhile, just 6% of GPs who responded to the poll said they did not believe social prescribing was something GPs should be involved in - half the proportion who felt this way last year. Less than 4% said they did not have time to refer for non-clinical services.

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Earlier this year, RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard wrote about the benefits of social prescribing for GPonline. She said: ‘As GPs we aspire to be experts in whole person care, accounting for the myriad physical, psychological and social factors potentially impacting on our patient’s health. Sometimes what our patients need is ‘more than medicine’.

‘What pill can help my patients feel more immersed in a community, needed, and give them a sense of purpose? None that I can think of.

‘Good GPs have always practised ‘social prescribing’ – it just hasn’t had a widely accepted name until recently – and while more research is needed, the evidence we do have is showing benefits for patients, but also can reduce workload for GPs.’

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One GP responding to the survey said: ‘We have an AGE UK service based in the practice which is a godsend as referral to them means all social needs are assessed and signposted by their team.’

Another commented: ‘[Social prescribing] takes pressure off prescribing when it is really not needed and it is a useful tool in providing holistic medicine.’

Others seemed unsure of how successful social prescribing could be at present. ‘It can help but depends on the individual social prescriber and the resources available for them to refer onto social care, parenting, mental health resources, financial support, etcetera. All are very stretched and under-resourced,’ one respondent wrote.

Some respondents were very sceptical, with one saying social prescribing ‘shouldn’t be a GP’s job’ and another describing it as ‘insufficient’.

Social prescribing is one of NHS England's 10 'high impact actions', identified to help free up GPs' time to deliver more clinical care. NHS England says social prescribing can help reduce demand for GP and other appointments and improve quality of life for patients and carers.

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