Becoming a Social Prescriber

Social prescribing is a way of linking patients in primary care with sources of support within the community. It provides GPs with a non-medical referral option that can operate alongside existing treatments to improve health and wellbeing.

NHS England has committed to making social prescribing link workers available to people in every GP practice across England, and to increasing the numbers of link workers in primary care over the next five years.

This short animation by the Healthy London Partnership explains what social prescribing is, how it works and the benefits to individuals’ health and wellbeing.

It’s estimated that one in ve of the people who go to see their GP are troubled by things that can’t be cured by medical treatment. GPs tell us that they spend signi cant amounts of time dealing with the effects of poor housing, debt, stress and loneliness. Many people are overwhelmed and can’t reach out to make the connections that could make a difference to their situation.

This is especially true for people who have long-term conditions, who need support with their mental health, who are lonely or isolated, or who have complex social needs which affect their wellbeing.

As a social prescribing link worker you can help people to identify what matters to them, and work out how to connect with the activities that might make a difference.

This is social prescribing. Making connections. Giving people a sense of belonging that comes from being part of a community group. Helping them to find a new sense of purpose, enjoying activities they might not otherwise have tried before. Helping them to stay physically and mentally well for longer and manage the long-term conditions they might be living with.

It’s good for people. It’s good for communities. And it’s good for the GPs you’ll be working with, because it gives them a non-medical referral option that can work alongside existing treatments.

For social prescribing to work well, link workers need to see themselves as part of a wider community, building on what’s already there in local communities and working in partnership with other agencies.

The key elements of good social prescribing are:

  • collaborative commissioning and partnership working
  • easy referral from all local agencies
  • workforce development
  • link worker employed to give time to people
  • co-produced personalised plan, based on what matters to the individual
  • support for community groups
  • common outcomes framework.

You will be taking referrals from the GPs in your network. (And if your social prescribing service already takes referrals from other local agencies, you will take referrals from them too.) You will spend time with the people referred to you, building trusting relationships, listening carefully to what matters to people and what motivates them. Where people are isolated or lonely, it may be helpful for you to visit them at home.

You will work with individuals to create a shared plan based on what matters to them, to help them take control of their health and wellbeing. You will help them to connect with community and voluntary groups locally, supporting them to make their own choices and help them build con dence to cope with social situations, such as community group meetings.

You will also be working with partners to increase community capacity. Where local infrastructure agencies exist, such as councils for voluntary service (CVSs), they will provide development support to the local voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector. You should connect with them and help them identify and meet development needs of local community groups and organisations.

It is also important that you work in partnership with local community workers, local area coordinators and whatever roles are in place locally. Together you will be able to share information about what training is available for small voluntary and community groups. And together, you will be able to nurture community groups and assets to help them become sustainable.

The social prescribing link worker role has emerged over the past few years and has mainly been pioneered by voluntary sector organisations, working in partnership with GP practices and other referral agencies. Link workers are employed in non-clinical roles. They are recruited for their listening skills, empathy and ability to support people.

Social prescribing link workers help to reduce health inequalities by supporting people to unpick complex issues affecting their wellbeing. They enable people to have more control over their lives, develop skills and give their time to others, through involvement in community groups. Link workers visit people in their homes, where needed.

On average, link workers have between 6-12 contacts with a person, depending on their needs, over a three-month period. They connect people to community groups and help the person to develop skills, friendships and resilience. The term ‘social prescribing link worker’ is used generically. However, locally there are many different names used to describe the link worker role. These include community connector, wellbeing advisor, community navigator, health advisor, depending on local preference. Different terms have emerged as local areas have developed their own local schemes.

Regional learning coordinator, Sarah Gorman talks about supporting social prescribing link workers in practice.

For social prescribing to work successfully, link workers need suitable support and training. It is also vital that the wider workforce understands social prescribing to enable appropriate referrals. We are developing a training and development programme for the additional link workers coming into primary care, to include online learning, facilitated peer support and regional learning events/webinars. Link workers in primary care will receive direct line management and supervision from a GP. A sample job description and person specification is included in the Summary Guide to Social Prescribing.