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Social prescribing should become ‘normal practice’ for GPs, says Health Secretary

The new Health Secretary has backed plans to dramatically increase social prescription on the NHS, saying GPs and healthcare professionals should advise patients that playing sport and being sociable are key to their health.

Matt Hancock said growing evidence suggested that social prescribing can be better than medicine in certain instances, telling an audience in Manchester that encouraging patients to lead sociable, healthier lives could relieve pressure on the NHS.

All healthcare professionals should consider social prescription when dealing with patients, the new Health Secretary told the NHS Expo in Manchester

In a speech at NHS England’s annual showcase he said: “There is a growing evidence base that social prescribing can be better for patients than medicine. Of course there will also be medicine prescribed – and rightly so – but I want to see the balance shifted in favour of social prescribing.”

WHAT IS SOCIAL PRESCRIBING? 

Social prescribing sees GPs and healthcare professionals considering services or activities for patients that are often seen as therapeutic – eg social groups and sports activities – over offering prescription drugs

He said that doctors and nurses should be trained to offer ‘as normal practice a formal social prescription’.

Hancock continued: “The nature of social prescribing is that what you’re prescribing is a social activity, so of course, anybody can suggest to somebody that they do a social activity. My wife regularly tells me to do more exercise.

“But what I really care about is ensuring that within the NHS it is normal practice to consider a formal social prescription and that the growing evidence base for the value of social prescribing is taken on board by practitioners.”

Social prescription, including advising patients to take more physical activity and join social groups, should become ‘normal practice’ for GPs, Hancock said

Dr Michael Dixon, founder of the College of Medicine, which has long championed the increase of social prescription, said the Health Secretary’s comments were a sign social prescribing was now moving into the mainstream.
He said: “For many years, the conventional medical  establishment regarded social prescription as something peripheral if not irrelevant. It is remarkable today to see social prescription becoming mainstream and being seen as important part of future health and care as well one of the keys to NHS sustainability.”
Dr Dixon added: “The College of Medicine has been championing social prescription with many of its members and members of council being leading innovators.
“Dr James Fleming in Burnley created ‘Green Dreams’, while Sir Sam Everington (Vice President, College of Medicine and GP at the Bromley-by-Bow partnership) and Dr Michael Dixon (Senior Partner, Culm valley Integrated Centre for health) have been working together for over ten years to develop the concept of working models of social prescription in both practices.”
Social prescription began as national movement following a meeting arranged by the College of Medicine and University Westminster in London in January 2016. The National Social prescribing network started with 100 people in January 2016 and now has over 2000 members.
The network leads thinking and research on social prescription nationally and internationally and works closely with NHS England on the implementation of social prescribing in England.