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History of social prescribing

The essence of social prescribing and a holistic approach to a patient’s care has been integral to primary care for decades

Posted: 15 March 2016

If you’ve missed yesterday’s episode of this week’s feature on social prescribing, click here.

Writer: Dr Richard Kimberlee, senior research fellow, Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, University of the West of England

Social prescribing calls for a holistic approach as it involves multiple models and definitions. A clear GP referral route, a local focus, methods to provide holistic support to clients and high levels of support with clients are the preferred model in Bristol.

The origins of social prescribing have been associated with an alternative care provision developed by the Bromley-by-Bow Health Centre in 1997. But, arguably, the essence of social prescribing has been integral to primary care for decades. Tudor Hart advocated a “know all about your patient” holistic approach from his GP practice in Glyncorrwg, Wales, in the 1970s. Today, interest in social prescribing is growing because of an awareness of the increasing burden of mental health, aging and other long-term conditions as well as a growing sense of crisis in general practice. One in four people in the UK suffer a mental health problem in the course of a year, and recent Kings Fund research reveal complex health reforms have led 50 per cent of GPs to believe they can no longer guarantee safe patient care, prompting Dr Clare Gerada, former chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, to conclude “general practice is in crisis”.

Not having time to “know everything about their patient”, some GPs have been slowly turning to social prescribing to alleviate their burden.

In holistic projects, those referred are enabled to play a central role in managing their own care and addressing their needs. These are usually through one-to-one sessions with a health or community worker. But social prescribing interventions can also tap into or evolve group resources as illustrated by the Men’s Group in the Wellbeing Project hosted at the Wellspring Healthy Living Centre in Bristol.

Evolving organically from primary care/voluntary sector partnerships, they are the product of substantial dialogues between (usually a few) GPs in a practice and a local third sector partner. They are haphazardly sustained by small pots of funding from local sources or from philanthropic trusts like the Tudor Trust or even the Big Lottery. In Bristol, social prescribing projects are not currently part of a CCG strategic plan, unlike in Rotherham, who is instead investing in various social prescribing approaches to make them a key component of their primary care provision. Social prescribing in Bristol is more fragile and only thriving because of the innovative activities of a few partnerships embedded in and across diverse communities.

Join us tomorrow for the third episode of this week’s feature on social prescribing as we’ll be discussing transforming lives