Changing the conversation about health

Beyond Pills Campaign: A message from our Chair, Dr Michael Dixon, on how The College of Medicine is at ‘the forefront of reducing overprescribing’

In his latest blog post, ‘Reflections from the Bridge’, Dr Michael Dixon, The College of Medicine’s Chair, looks at how social prescribing is changing the landscape of health for the better…

Change is as inevitable as death and taxes. As we change our clocks and welcome a new Prime Minister, it is a good time to reflect on the changes that we are trying to bring about at the College of Medicine.  

Change is as inevitable as death and taxes. As we prepare to change our clocks and Prime Minister , it is a good time to reflect on the changes that we are trying to bring about at the College of Medicine.  

Last month several of us spoke at the Westminster Health Forum conference on overprescribing, where our “Beyond Pills” campaign featured in several presentations including that of the new NHS England Clinical Director for Prescribing. 

In a new blog post, Dr Dixon addresses recent criticism of social prescribing and updates on the progress The College of Medicine’s Beyond Pills Campaign is making
Image: Pixabay/jarmoluk

Our project to reduce the over prescription of pills is gaining momentum, mostly because it offers better and safer medicine but also because it will help to reduce NHS costs and our carbon footprint (drugs make up 25% of the NHS’s carbon footprint), when it is becoming increasingly important to do both. 

The majority of Royal Colleges and other health related organisations have already signed up and with our six recommendations and involvement in national policy, the College is now at the forefront of reducing inappropriate prescription of drugs. 


Of course a major alternative is social prescription and the next day, one or two of the newspapers produced unhelpful headlines saying that social prescription was “a waste of money”.  In fact the authors of the paper from which these comments originated had only said “There was scant evidence to support the rollout of social prescribing link workers”. 

Inevitably there was – from this study at least – as only eight pieces of research were considered three of which were from the USA, three of which were out of date and the reasons for including or excluding research were highly questionable. 

Conversely, there is extremely good evidence for social prescription including eight recent studies that are applicable to the NHS and available on our website. They say that if you don’t cause controversy then you probably don’t matter but it is tiresome when the College’s hard fought achievements in social prescription are rubbished on the basis of a small piece of flawed research, when we can show how proven the case is (see a full statement on our website). 

More importantly, it is so harmful for patients if social prescribing is slowed down due to nerves about evidence on high at a time when NHS resources and staff are increasingly scarce and we really do need to be using the healing opportunities available within our own communities.  Sir Sam Everington, Vice Chair of the College, fortunately had an immediate response printed in the Times the following day.

On the day after, I chaired a meeting of the Global Social Prescribing Alliance which now has over 20 countries as members and has produced a substantial paper on social prescribing and it is evident that a number of countries (e.g. the Netherlands, Finland, The Republic of Ireland and Canada) are moving towards the comprehensive provision of social prescribing as in England. 

Next month, social prescribing leaders in Singapore will be hosting a South Pacific conference on social prescribing including speakers such as Sir Michael Marmot (who spoke at our own conference this year) and on Thursday our National Social Prescribing Network started making plans for next year’s international conference in October.

Closer to home, on Wednesday, we had a meeting of our Prisons and Social Prescribing Group and heard from Leah in Staffordshire about the extraordinary achievements in social prescribing that are being seen and the lessons being learnt.  Coincidentally, I also received on the same day, a report on the Armed Forces Social Prescribing Pilot, which again has some extraordinary stories and will, like the prisons, produce some vital research and statistics in time.

Also on the day after, we had a further meeting of the Integrated Medicine Alliance that now brings together all the main complementary medicine modalities with our membership now joined by the osteopaths and the chiropractors.  Apart from informing the public and professionals about complementary approaches and quality standards, the Integrated Medicine Alliance is now planning to inform the NHS and particularly social prescribing link workers of the opportunities that complementary medicine can offer in both helping patients and reducing the call upon NHS resources.

Meanwhile, we are fast forwarding other College initiatives.  On Tuesday we will be discussing the next stage for our International Young Health Leaders Institute, the first cohort was completed in the autumn.  Next Thursday I will be speaking at the successor of my previous organisation “NHS Alliance” now called “Health Creation Alliance” and will be exploring the crucial topic of how we create health within communities especially given the current social and political climate with its huge inequalities.  The following week I will be visiting the first of our two projects twinning farms and GP practices, which are pilots for a funded rollout to other farms and practices next year.  

Meanwhile, we are continuing with a number of other projects – producing a guide on healthy eating before Christmas, relaunching our Mind/Body Faculty and Dr Laura Marshall-Andrews in Brighton is creating a network of GP practices with an interest in integrated health and care. 

Thanks to all those that were able to attend our AGM, thanks to all those working to further our work and also those of you who are members or simply visiting the website as you are all key to progressing our movement – to improve health and care by combining our conventional use of pills and procedures with a much wider vision, which enables individuals and communities to extend the range of the possible.  

Thank you again – your support is essential and it is what keeps us going!

Dr Michael Dixon

Chair, The College of Medicine