We often associate the term prescription with medications and when we visit the doctor, it is an expectation to be prescribed a medication that will either cure the illness or alleviate the symptoms.  Medications  may seem like a a quick solution, however, they often only address the immediate problem and not  the social factors that contribute to disease. Around 1 in 5  GP consultations  are attributable to social problems such as loneliness  (1).  That is where social prescribing comes in. Unlike the traditional notion of ‘a pill for every ill’, social prescribing  is when health care professionals  refer patients to a link worker, who then refers them to community based activities such as exercise groups, dietary advice sessions, volunteering  and self-help groups  based on their individual needs.

Social prescribing advocates a holistic approach to healthcare, this means considering the social, economic, and other factors that may affect a person’s health rather than just addressing their symptoms.   For example, prescribing insulin may allow a patient to manage their diabetes in the short term,  but, if the main  reason for their diabetes being out of control in the first place is  their excessive consumption of sugary foods and lack of exercise, the problem is likely to reoccur in the future. Therefore, the patient may  be referred to have  dietary advice sessions or  to an exercise group as part of their long term management plan.   A typical GP consultation is just 10 minutes and this is often insufficient to address social factors that may contribute to disease.  In contrast, social prescribing link workers a have more time to  understand each patient’s individual healthcare needs  and therefore can help develop tailored programmes for each patient. Moreover, many commonly used medications have unpleasant side effects.  For example, tricyclic antidepressants are used for the management of depression and their side effects include  blurred vision, constipation, dizziness and weight gain. On the contrary, a social prescription has no side effects and  can be is a solution to problems like social isolation, but, it also improves patients’ quality of life and self-esteem (2).

Social prescribing has become increasingly popular in recent years and  it  is part of the NHS’s   long term plan, which outlines the NHS goals and priorities in the next decade. Amidst the current  COVID-19 crisis, the  social prescribing is becoming even more important, specifically because of the toll of the crisis on the population’s mental health.  Social prescribing  link workers are now involved with:  well-being phone calls for those who are self-isolating,  assisting patients in finding the right support that they require and supporting patients  with the use of technology to stay connected.   In future, receiving a social prescription may become just as commonplace as receiving a drug prescription as  the NHS shifts towards  a holistic approach to healthcare.

Reflective Questions:

-  What is social Prescribing and What have you learnt from it ?

-  Why  is it becoming a more important aspect of primary care ?

-  Summarise the benefits of Social prescribing

-  Why do you thinking there is an increasing focus on a holistic approach to healthcare?

Words: Anjitha Anilkumar

References :

1 . Husk K, Elston J, Gradinger F, Callaghan L, Asthana S. Social prescribing: where is the evidence? [Internet]. British journal of General practice. 2020 [cited 9 June 2020]. Available from: https://bjgp.org/content/69/678/6.full#ref-11

2.  Loftus A, McCauley F, McCarron M. Impact of social prescribing on general practice workload and polypharmacy. Public Health. 2017;148:96-101.