Social prescribing and mental health

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The Natural England Commissioned a report in January 2017  highlighted good practice in social prescribing in mental health and stressed the importance of the role in nature-based interventions. They concluded that 
  • There are many different social prescribing models currently operating in England, all using slightly different referral mechanisms, funding arrangements and ways of working. Although this study aimed to focus on social prescribing for mental health, the reality is that most schemes target a range of beneficiary groups, and so this specific focus was not possible. The majority of social prescribing services are therefore generalist4 or generalist plus mental health.
  • All the successful social prescribing services examined in this study have set up an effective primary care referral system providing GPs with a non-medical referral option to enable patients to easily access health resources and social support from outside the NHS. Social prescribing schemes are operated jointly by primary care providers and the third sector, but the social prescription element is predominantly delivered by the third sector.
  • The characteristics of a ‘successful’ social prescribing service have not yet been fully researched. However, from the cases examined in this study, good practice in social prescribing depends on good partnerships, high levels of cooperation and joint ownership between a wide range of individuals, groups and organisations with very different organisational cultures. Good communications between the social prescribing service, GPs and healthcare staff, is essential. Social prescribing link workers play a pivotal role in the social prescribing service, as they are responsible for taking referrals and linking the patient to relevant services.
  • Patients benefitting most from social prescribing often have multiple health-related issues, which individually are insufficient to trigger social or health care payment, but in combination result in frequent GP visits and high service use. Benefits from social prescribing identified in this study include: i) better outcomes for health and social care ii) improvements in the mental health and wellbeing of patients iii) cost-effective use of NHS resources; and iv) more effective use of GP time.
  • At present, specific inclusion criteria for services within social prescribing options are rare, with no specific accreditation requirements for service-providers. As a result, GPs have expressed concerns about the quality of services and liability.
  • Shortcomings with the current referral processes were also highlighted as a barrier to engaging GPs with social prescribing. Reaching agreement between General Practices and the social prescribing provider regarding effective referral routes and appropriate inclusion criteria, is a particular priority.

Further reading/resources:

  1. Natural England, Good practice in social prescribing for mental health: the role of nature based interventions January 2017
  2. NHS Health Scotland, Social prescribing for mental health: guidance paper April 2016
  3. NHS Health Scotland, Social prescribing for mental health: background paper December 2015
  4. Work Foundation, Social prescribing: A pathway to work? February 2017