Social Value & Health

Social prescribing pilots

There have, however, been small-scale pilots testing social prescribing. We detail three of these below.

Yorkshire & Humber   During 2011/12, supported by Age Concern UK, twelve GP practices in Yorkshire and Humber participated in a social prescribing pilot. Age Concern supports social prescribing because it considers that the kind of improved outcomes it can offer are especially relevant for older people with depression or who are socially isolated. (And preventing social isolation and loneliness, especially amongst an ageing population, is now extremely high on the policy agenda — for example, see BBC; Ageing Better in Birmingham; Institute for Research & Innovation in Social Services; Social Care Institute for Excellence;  and The Silver Line.)

You can read Age Concern’s report about the social prescribing pilots here.

NHS Rotherham CCG   NHS Rotherham CCG has also been the focus of a social prescribing pilot. The Rotherham Social Prescribing Pilot was delivered by Voluntary Action Rotherham (VAR) on behalf of NHS Rotherham CCG, funded for two years from April 2012 to March 2014. The pilot received around £1m as part of a programme to provide ‘additional investment in the community’ and began receiving referrals from September 2012 onwards.

24 voluntary and community organisations received grants totalling just over £600,000 to deliver a menu of 31 separate social prescribing services. 1,607 patients were referred to the service, of whom 1,118 were referred on to funded VCS services. In addition, more than 200 referrals were made to non-funded VCS provision and more than 300 referrals were made to statutory services. The five most common types of funded services referred to were information and advice, community activity, physical activities, befriending and enabling.

Third Sector Online recently wrote about the Rotherham pilot (02/02/16) saying: “…the [Sheffield Hallam University] report says patients who fully engaged with the [service], and especially those that went beyond their initial ‘social prescription’, were more likely to experience improvements in their wellbeing and a reduction in their use of emergency care.” Third Sector’s piece concludes: “The report says that social prescribing has proved effective at reducing social isolation and loneliness and increasing independence and community engagement among people with long-term conditions… The service has shown how small voluntary and community organisations can make positive contributions to local strategic health and wellbeing priorities and has improved the credibility of the sector with statutory partners.”

You can read various documents from Sheffield Hallam University’s evaluation of the project here.

East Birmingham  In March 2015), a 12-month social prescribing pilot for East Birmingham was launched. Focused on Hodge Hill, the project is designed to improve health outcomes for patients while also easing the pressure on local healthcare services. It is being supported by Birmingham CrossCity Clinical Commissioning Group through its East Birmingham Local Commissioning Network and was developed in partnership with local charity Open Door Community Foundation.

Ultimately, quite how far we shall see social prescribing implemented as an aspect of social value in health remains to be seen. Both are ideas whose time has come, and yet in practice, use of neither is widespread. The NHS — perhaps unsurprisingly given the current pressures under which it is operating — seems stalled at discussing how to integrate them successfully and meaningfully into existing provision, systems, procedures and processes.