Intended for healthcare professionals


Social prescribing: coffee mornings, singing groups, and dance lessons on the NHS

BMJ 2018; 363 doi: (Published 19 November 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;363:k4857
  1. Ann Robinson, general practitioner, London, UK
  1. drannrobinson{at}

The UK government wants to formalise doctors’ referral of patients for community activities and is setting up an academy to advance the practice. Ann Robinson asks whether can it improve patients’ outcomes and save waste in the NHS?

“Dance lessons for the lonely on NHS,” led the Daily Mail in October.1 “GPs should prescribe hobbies like ballroom dancing, gardening and art classes to millions of people, because it is often better than drugs,” said the Telegraph.2

This “social prescribing” is being touted widely as a panacea, including for loneliness,3 obesity, depression, and osteoarthritis. The health and social care secretary, Matt Hancock, is a fan: he wants social prescribing to relieve pressure on the NHS and improve patients’ outcomes.

At an event at the King’s Fund think tank on 6 November, Hancock, a former culture secretary, said, “For too long we’ve been fostering a culture that’s popping pills and Prozac . . . Arts and social activities can help us move to more person centred care and increase focus on prevention.

“I see social prescribing growing in importance, becoming an indispensable tool for GPs, just like a thermometer or a stethoscope may be seen today.”

He gave as an example the Alchemy Project in Lambeth, London, which uses dance as part of an integrated recovery model in early intervention in psychosis.4 And he mentioned hospitals in Gloucestershire that offer singing groups for people with chronic lung conditions to teach them a better understanding of breath control while aiming to improve self esteem and reduce social isolation.5

Hancock also announced the government would create a National Academy for Social Prescribing—“an online platform …

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