How social prescribing can help GPs and practice teams

Christiana Melam explains how working closely with social prescribing link workers can help GPs to better support patients.

National Association of Link Workers chief executive Christiana Melam

During the pandemic, many practices have seen the benefits of making use of social prescribing. With practices still facing huge workloads and a COVID-19 booster jab and flu vaccination to contend with in the coming weeks social prescribing can continue to help.

What is social prescribing?

Social prescribing link workers can provide non-medical support to vulnerable patients, helping to reduce inequalities, but also enabling self-care approaches, and connecting patients to community-based support.

Social prescribing link workers have time to get to the root cause of problems, which enables patients’ problems to be addressed, reducing demand on GP appointments. Increased access to social prescribing has also expanded in some areas and PCNs are now able to recruit more link workers as the additional roles reimbursement scheme (ARRS) has expanded.

Social prescribing link workers give GPs an option for those patients where medical intervention is not appropriate or not necessary, or in cases where non-medical factors need to be addressed alongside a medical approach.

Addressing patients’ non-medical needs is not as simple as telling people what to do, but rather it is about providing support and working with them to understand drivers and roots of the issues they may face. Helping to identify and remove barriers enables people to focus on behaviour change, but that cannot happen until the barriers have been removed.

Helping people help themselves

This holistic approach empowers individuals and communities to help themselves. It also helps to bring general practice much closer to the community, highlighting that the GP is the glue that connects other services, rather than being the focal point where patients are over-reliant on their GP.

Social prescribing link workers and GP team-based working can deliver real benefits for patients. This can be particularly true when GPs work closely in partnership with link workers.

A senior social prescriber explains: ‘My most significant achievement is being able to feedback to the doctors on what we have achieved together to improve the lives of the patients. Just as important, the chance to give them a safe space to share some of their own frustrations about the pressured and isolated way they are currently working. The reassurance that they are getting it right and are appreciated by their patients is a great help in getting through this difficult time.’

Supporting PCNs

Social prescribing link workers can be the eyes and ears of the PCN. They often have insight into the needs of communities and are able to provide real intelligence to GPs, allowing PCNs to better understand and address the real issues their patients face to avoid pillar to post.

The UK annual Social Prescribing Link Worker Day conference 2021 is taking place on 8 October 2021. This annual conference will be held virtually this year and provides an opportunity for GPs and general practice teams to harvest innovative knowledge to maximise their social prescribing, reduce workload pressure and improve health outcomes for their patients and communities.

Delegates will be able to connect and learn best practices, topics include: examples of inclusion health social prescribing; how to create effective integrated primary care teams to disrupt inequalities; and utilising the social prescribing link worker model to creatively disrupt inequalities and power up integrated care.

This conference will be attended by social prescribing link workers, community, health and social care leaders, GPs, clinical directors, workforce leads and managers from across sectors in the UK, as well as international delegates.

More detail about the conference can be found on the National Association of Link Workers' events page here.

  • Christiana Melam is chief executive of the National Association of Link Workers

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