top of page

What is social prescribing? – The Big Issue

What is social prescribing?

Social prescribing is a non-medical intervention to give a patient a prescription to take part in an activity, such as exercise, socialising or spending time in nature, to tackle a specific mental or physical problem. The idea is to look at a person holistically, rather than isolating their physical or mental health from the social context in which they live. 

The activities on a social prescription are typically free, either provided by community or voluntary organisations or by the natural world — such as spending more time outdoors — so are being posited as providing crucial support amid cost of living pressures.  

Does the NHS offer social prescribing?

Social prescribing has been embraced by NHS England, which intends to build infrastructure around the concept and embed social prescribing and other community-based approaches across the NHS. Ultimately, the NHS plans for every person in England to have access to a social prescribing service through their GP practice.

This is the biggest investment in social prescribing by any country’s national health system in the world, NHS England has claimed. 

Get the latest news and insight into how the Big Issue magazine is made by signing up for the Inside Big Issue newsletter

“Rather than prescription drugs, getting people active, involved in their community in activities like park run, is great for their health and a great way for them to address issues such as loneliness, obesity and mental health” said health secretary Steve Barclay, who added that the department for health and social care is committed to investing in it. 

If you’re keen to hear what kind of social prescriptions could help you, ask your GP if they can refer you to a social prescriber who will help you to figure out what activities might benefit your health the most. 

Where have people tried social prescribing? 

In the North East of England, GPs have struggled to treat the growing numbers of people experiencing loneliness and depression, but social prescribing is trying to reduce pressures on surgeries and A&E. 

Health and council bosses in Gateshead have rolled out a new approach to enable doctors to prescribe days out, including to an allotment run by one local GP surgery, in an attempt to help those who are struggling. 

Social prescribing link worker Julie Bray was one of the first NHS social prescribers in the country. She told the BBC it’s mind-blowing “just to see the difference in some of the patients that we’ve worked with”. 

“They build their confidence up, it reduces GP appointments, it reduces A&E appointments, and it just makes them connect with the community and be resilient”, she continued. 

Your support changes lives. Find out how you can help us help more people by signing up for a subscription

GPs in Scotland have been writing “RSPB Nature Prescriptions” that include giving patients a calendar of ideas to help them connect with nature to boost mental health and wellbeing. 

After the project was trialled in the Shetland Isles and Edinburgh, over 74 per cent of patients who received nature prescriptions said they benefited from it, and 87 per cent said they would continue to turn to nature to support their health and wellbeing. 

Nature prescriptions will now be trialled in Derbyshire in England, to connect people with the Peak District National Park through prescriptions from 13 different GP practices in the area.