Changing the conversation about health

Explainer: How does social prescribing actually work?

It’s the healthcare buzzword that has moved from the periphery to the mainstream thanks to the government’s 2018 pledge to inject £4.5million into NHS social prescribing.

Here’s what you need to know about how social prescribing works in practice…


Social prescribing combines traditional bio-medicine with support for patients from many other areas considered crucial to health, including nutrition, physical activity, education, employment, environment and creativity.


The prescriber (normally a GP) refers a patient to a link worker or social prescriber and a menu of options – everything from gardening groups to complementary therapies – is offered to them.

The link worker is often not clinical and needs to have an approachable personality and is often motivationally trained. 

They must have time to understand the patient’s own perspective, hopes, strengths and challenges and then develop a menu of possibilities that might help – offering the patient something quite different from a medical prescription or procedure. 

Research has shown that social prescription works by improving a person’s measurable ‘activation level’ enabling them to become much more self-reliant and resilient and much more activated in their own health and care.