A third of GPs say either they or a GP at their practice has referred patients to non-clinical services, but added that they did not do so regularly, responses to the GPonline survey indicate.
Social prescribing is described as a way GPs can refer patients with social, emotional or practical needs to non-clinical services, which are often run by charities.
Out of over 560 GPs to respond, a fifth said they were open to social prescribing but had never done it, while a further fifth would refer in this way if they had more information about available services.
A total of 6% said they did not have time for social prescribing, and 5% indicated they did not believe GPs should be involved in social prescribing.
Comparison to a similar survey conducted by GPonline two years ago suggests the proportion of GPs regularly engaging in social prescribing remains unchanged, while the proportion doing so occasionally has slightly increased from 24% to 30%.
Social prescribing is one of NHS England's 10 'high impact actions' that it is promoting to help free up GPs' time to deliver more clinical care. NHS England says social prescribing can help reduce demand for GP and other approintments and improve quality of life for patients and carers.
However, many GPs responding to the survey who were undertaking social prescribing warned that it might be difficult to continue providing the service in the current financial climate.
One GP respondent said they had launched a local initiative, but warned it would ‘struggle to continue’ without a promise of further funding.
Another said there was ‘reduced things that the social prescriber can do as funding decreases’.
Others were sceptical of the value of social prescribing. ‘Patients should be signposted to these services without the need for GP involvement,’ said one GP.
Another took a firmer stance: ‘I do not agree with an ever-increasing reliance on charities to fill gaps in services.’