Maximising the impact of social prescribing on population health in the era of COVID-19

Our new paper in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine discusses social prescribing, the process of referring people to non-clinical community services; such as exercise classes and welfare advice, with the aim of improving mental, physical and social wellbeing.

Social prescribing has been increasingly adopted across high-income countries including the UK, United States of America, Canada and Finland. The UK’s Department of Health first introduced the term ‘social prescribing’ in 2006 to promote good health and independence, especially for people with long-term conditions. Over a decade later, in 2019, NHS England committed to funding social prescribing through link workers. Link workers receive referrals, mainly from general practitioners, and are attached to primary care networks with populations of 30–50,000 people.

In the paper, we examine the impact of different social prescribing schemes in England, from a population health perspective, that focus on individuals, communities or a combination of both. We examine the opportunities to maximise social prescribing’s impact on population health, in the era of COVID-19, by realigning social prescribing to a household model that reflects principles of universality, comprehensiveness and integration.