Social Prescribing and Exercise on Referral – can they be happy bedfellows?

by Stuart Stokes on December 5, 2019

On 25th October 2019, the new National Academy of Social Prescribing was launched by Health Secretary Matt Hancock. Its emphasis is on complementing existing NHS interventions, such as prescriptions, with more holistic, community-focused interventions such as physical activity.

A week later I attended ukactive’s annual National Summit and social prescribing was a hot topic with everyone from ukactive Chair Tanni Grey-Thompson to the Secretary of State for Health himself, who stated that he believes whenever there is drug prescribing there should also be activity prescribing.

I strongly celebrate the new social prescribing National Academy – indeed I applaud any funding that comes into the sector, be it through direct or indirect provision. But I think there are caveats and points to note.

Before we delve further into the subject, let’s get one thing straight. Social prescribing is not the new Exercise on Referral (EOR). There has been commentary in the press that social prescribing will herald the death of exercise referral. Rubbish.

‘Social prescribers’ and ‘link workers’ are new names for the health trainers that went before them and social prescribing is in fact a route into any EOR service that aims to get people more active – one can’t trump the other. If patients see a link worker, they aren’t going ‘get your trainers on, let’s do some exercise right now’; they’re going to direct those patients to our industry.

EOR is in fact one of the outputs for social prescribing and it compliments what good GPs have been doing for years – getting support for their patients that goes beyond medicines. It’s not the end of EOR. In fact, it’s a new route in and it’ll hopefully take the pressure off the GPs.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, the outgoing Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners and the leader of the new National Academy, spoke eloquently at the summit about bringing together partners from health, housing and local government with arts, culture, activity and sporting organisations to help patients improve their health, wellbeing and social welfare. Her target is to recruit 1,000 trained social prescribing link workers by 2021, with the aim of referring 900,000 people to social prescribing schemes by then.

From our experience of working with existing social prescribing schemes I think these targets will be one of her biggest challenges – just 1,000 link workers supporting 900,000 people? From a capacity point of view, if a patient requires more support and consumes a number of sessions then this will stretch the link workers and possibly cause scheduling concerns.

Another issue is those link workers will need countless validated outputs – good services to send people to. Professor Stokes-Lampard talked about creating a database of what projects exist, and where. Between the DataHub and the Open Data Initiative, we already have this! We’ve got a fantastic directory of services, we know already what they look like and how you access them.

ReferAll’s software brings referral management online and helps organisations to seamlessly run complex medical referral schemes, allowing them to analyse data, generate reports and facilitate the continuous improvement of standards and efficacy. Professor Stokes-Lampard … our door is open, we can help. Come and talk to us.

Topics: Public Health Campaigns