Intended for healthcare professionals

  1. Chris Drinkwater, emeritus professor of primary care1,
  2. Josephine Wildman, research associate2,
  3. Suzanne Moffatt, reader in social gerontology2
  1. 1Ways to Wellness, Business Innovation Facility Biomedical Research Centre Campus for Ageing and Vitality, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
  2. 2Institute of Health & Society, Sir James Spence Institute, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
  1. Correspondence to C Drinkwater chris.drinkwater{at}

What you need to know

  • Emerging evidence suggests that social prescribing can improve people’s health and wellbeing and reduce workload for healthcare professionals and demand for secondary care services

  • In England social prescribing is part of the NHS Long Term Plan. Primary Care Networks will be funded to employ a social prescriber from 2019

  • Social prescribing is targeted at a range of patients, including those who are socially isolated and those with long term physical and/or mental health conditions

  • Social prescribers have a variety of names that include link worker, community connector, community navigator, and health trainer. The role varies from simple signposting to activities to more intensive and sometimes longer term individual support

  • Further research is needed to identify who is most likely to benefit from social prescribing and what type of intervention is most cost effective

Non-medical interventions are increasingly being proposed to address wider determinants of health and to help patients improve health behaviours and better manage their conditions.12 This is known as social prescribing. In England, the NHS Long Term Plan states that nearly one million people will qualify for referral to social prescribing schemes by 2023-24.3 Primary care networks, announced as part of the 2019 GP contract, will be funded to employ one social prescriber each from 2019.4 The social prescribing approach is also attracting interest in North America,35 Australia,6 and Scandinavia.7 This clinical update outlines what social prescribing is, the evidence behind it, and offers some tips for embedding social prescribing within healthcare systems.

What is social prescribing?

Socioeconomic factors have consistently been found to have a greater impact on health than healthcare.8 In addition, frailty and long term conditions can negatively affect social and physical activity, finances, and relationships, which in turn can lead to a further decline in health and wellbeing.4 …

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