An army of advisers will be recruited to help patients live fitter, healthier lives and combat anxiety, loneliness and depression under plans to ramp up social prescribing set to be launched by NHS England this week.
Around half of GP appointments are not directly related to medical conditions, according to experts. Growing evidence shows that referrals to community services such as exercise or art classes, history groups and even ballroom dancing can boost health and well-being more than dishing out pills or other treatments.
Now NHS England plans to recruit 1,000 social prescribing ‘link workers’ as part of the NHS Long Term Plan. The link workers will be able to give people time to talk about what matters to them and support them to find suitable activities that are a better alternative to medication as part of a step change in the provision of ‘personalised care’.
The blueprint for Universal Personalised Care, which will also free up GPs to deal with patients who really need them, is due to approved by the NHS England Board later this week.
Dr Michael Dixon, Chair of the College of Medicine, welcomed the news. The GP and social prescribing campaigner said: “This is excellent news for general practice, which is on its knees. This extra support of pharmacists, physiotherapists, social prescribers and others will make a great difference to the workload of each GP.
“Patients want a return to the time when they had ‘their doctor’. These new developments will greatly help that but we will also require more GPs at a time when their numbers have actually been going down during years when the number of specialists has vastly increased.
“Enabling practice to provide accessible, personal and continuing care should now be the NHS’s number one priority as all the research shows that this is the best way to reduce deaths, improve health and enable the NHS to be financially sustainable.
He continues: “This announcement is also a paradigm change for general practice. Every GP and patient will in future have access to social prescription.
“It is recognition that medicine now needs to go beyond pills and procedures and that the future sustainability of our health system will depend upon enabling people and communities to maximise their role as agents of health and healing themselves. This is a red letter day for the College of Medicine, which has pressed the cause for change during times when medicine has been too narrow and biomedical.”