From physical issues to mental illnesses, medical conditions may limit the extent to which you are able to carry out your daily tasks.
Specific medications are essential to help patients overcome a wide range of conditions. But earlier this year, the British government announced it is gradually starting to trial an additional, alternative way to improve patients’ mental and physical health.
In 11 different areas across the country, GPs will be able to offer ‘social prescriptions’, which aim to take care of the whole person, as opposed to address set of symptoms.
But what are they exactly? Here, we take a look at the introduction of new social prescriptions, while highlighting their impact and effectiveness on patients’ overall well-being.
Defining social prescribing
Social prescribing allows GPs, nurses, and other care professionals to refer people to an array of local, non-clinical services and support. This concept recognises that a patient’s health is dependent on a number of environmental, social, and economic factors, and therefore seeks to treat people’s needs in a more holistic fashion.
For instance, social prescriptions encourage individuals to join and get involved in a variety of friendly, socialising activities. These can include all-ability cycling taster days, running and walking groups, healthy cooking lessons, and art therapy. It is a valuable opportunity for people to get active and connect with their community, which in turn can highly benefit both their physical and mental health. Not only that, but specific activities (i.e. dance classes, gardening) are becoming popular options for social prescribing as they help tackle sentiments of loneliness, thanks especially to their social focus and physical demand.
In short, social prescriptions are non-medical referrals that aim to complement existing treatments to better one’s general well-being.
What are the benefits of social prescriptions?
Social prescribing can work for a large portion of people, and at least 900,000 patients will receive this type of referral by 2023/24. It may be useful for those living with one or more long-term conditions, for those who feel isolated on a regular basis, and for those who are dealing with complex situations and therefore require some tangible, moral support.
Tobias Alpsten, CEO and Founder of myGP comments, “Social prescribing takes a holistic approach to addressing a patient’s symptoms. It can be used when medication may not be required. This concept has shown evidence in improving emotional wellbeing and improved quality of life for a patient. For example, a patient who has an existing long-term condition could be prescribed socialising or exercising by their GP, to best support them.”
Here are some of the most noticeable advantages of this innovative form of GP prescription:
- Aids social connection – Isolation and loneliness can play a significant part in poor mental and/or physical health. By offering you the chance to get in touch with other people through activities within the community, social prescribing can actively relieve feelings of detachment and boost your quality of life. In fact, knowing that you can reach out to somebody when feeling alone can spur some much-needed optimism. More importantly, it can help your everyday obstacles seem less daunting and more manageable.
- Helps you identify the resources you need – At times, medical treatment can only address specific symptoms, and not alleviate those underlying factors that are contributing to the discomfort in the first place. In fact, constant feelings of worry and dread, which may be caused by job loss or financial problems, can end up affecting your physical condition too. Social prescribing can assist you in finding outside services, such as support with debt and employment advice, that may help you manage and overcome these sources of stress.
- Offers new tools to combat a chronic condition – Social prescriptions can be used, and can help, in the context of chronic diseases too. For instance, in the case of people who have diabetes, the patient and their doctor will first identify some diet changes to keep the condition under control. Then, through social prescribing and the help of a link worker, you could be referred to a healthy cooking class. This way, you will learn how to prepare nutritious, balanced meals to suit your needs and pockets.
- Reduces NHS services and workload – It is also fair to say that social prescribing has the potential to have an important impact on the NHS. Specifically, social prescribing schemes can lead to a reduction in the use of NHS services, such as non-essential GP appointments. In this respect, 59% of general practitioners believe that this new concept can provide a helping hand in relieving their soaring workload.
Are there any disadvantages?
As with everything, there are some possible downsides to the introduction of social prescriptions. One of them, for example, is that some patients might fail to engage with their prescribed scheme for long enough to notice the incentives. As well as lowering the chance of effective treatment, this can also take space from a person who instead would have benefitted from the opportunity.
It could also be argued that, in the case of people suffering from social anxiety, social prescribing might intimidate the patient, as they could feel challenged or forced to engage in community activities. This means that they may end up finding themselves in uncomfortable situations that could add to and heighten their sentiments of anxiety.
Further research is definitely required to determine who is more likely to benefit from social prescribing. But overall, emerging evidence suggests that it can improve people’s mental and physical wellbeing.
Ultimately, from aiding social connection to providing tools to manage chronic illnesses, social prescriptions are alternative, non-clinical referrals that are here to stay.