The Health and Social Care Secretary said the NHS should look to ‘social cures’ including music, dance and reading to reduce pressure on the health service.
Speaking at The King’s Fund in London, Conservative minister Matt Hancock told the audience that social prescribing could help reduce unnecessary ‘pill popping’.
He said: “[Social prescribing] can lead to the same or better outcomes for patients without popping pills. And it saves the NHS money. Because many of these social cures are free.”
The Health Secretary added: “We’ve been fostering a culture that’s popping pills and Prozac. When what we should be doing is more prevention and perspiration.”
He also announced there would be a new National Academy for Social Prescribing that will help train current, and the next generation, of GPs on how best to advise patients.
Mr Hancock unveiled plans to introduce the arts as an ‘indispensable tool’ for doctors and healthcare practitioners particularly for long-term medical conditions such as dementia.
Dr Michael Dixon, Chair of the College of Medicine said the speech signalled a sea-change in how the government viewed social prescribing, saying “This is the most inspiring announcement by a minister in a long time.
“I echo what Mr Hancock said; we know what the NHS does is life-saving. but what the arts and social activities do is life-enhancing. You might get by in a world without the arts, but it isn’t a world that any of us would choose to live in.
“Now those of us at the frontline of healthcare need to make sure that all patients have access to more healthcare solutions including the arts and social activities that are proven to keep us well and support longer lives, better lived. Trained key workers are the to this.”
Sir Sam Everington, a pioneer of the social prescribing movement at his practice in London’s Bromley-by-Bow also praised Mr Hancock’s acknowledgement that relying solely on bio-medicine needs to change.
He said: “Social prescribing is critical to improving the health and wellbeing of the nation. The announcement today by the Secretary of State for Health, Matt Hancock, to set up a National Academy for Social Prescribing recognises its importance in the lives of patients.”
And Tim Joss, Chief Executive of Aesop, Arts Enterprise with a Social Purpose said the potential for the arts in healthcare was so far largely untapped.
He told The Stage: “We have a world class arts sector built on three big pillars: the creative industries such as book publishing and the music and film industries; the voluntary arts sector with over 49,000 groups and 9.4 million people taking part; and the publicly funded sector which widens access and invests in innovation and the national’s cultural heritage.
“It’s potential to contribute to social prescribing is enormous but, to quote an All Party Parliamentary Group report, only ‘a small modicum of the potential contribution’ has so far been realised. Thanks to the energy and imagination of many people in both health and the arts, there is new momentum. Aesop is ‘at the forefront'”.
Marie Polley, Co-Chair of the Social Prescribing Network, added: “Today’s conference has shown how far the social prescribing movement has come in a short space of time, due to the collaborative spirit of everyone involved.
“The Social Prescribing Network continues to provide solutions and looks forward to working with Matt Hancock as social prescribing journeys into the NHS.”