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Paul Wilson talks about how ARC- GM plans to improve the evidence base for social prescribing on You and Yours - Listen here for Paul's broadcast (at 29:45 minutes).
When talking about social prescribing we need to separate two things. First, from work undertaken by Luke Munford and colleagues, we can be reasonably confident that engagement with community assets can lead to health benefits with improvements evident in quality of life and sense of self-worth. So getting involved with activities, services or events in the local community can be intrinsically good for us.
Social prescribing on the other hand is a means of linking patients presenting in primary care with these assets or other sources of support within the community. It is being widely promoted as way of dealing with some of the pressures on general practice. But when we have looked at the evidence for social prescribing we have found that benefits in terms of reducing primary care consultations or improving patient’s physical and/or mental health are less clear.
Public Health England have recently updated our original work and have reached the same conclusions.
We know a great deal about how social prescribing should or could work but less so when it comes to outcomes. New ways of working like social prescribing are not without cost or consequence so determining whether a new service can deliver gains in health benefits over and above what is already available is crucial.
As part of ARC- GM we will be looking at a range of questions including: Who gets referred and why? Who takes up the offer and stays the course with what effect? And crucially what stops people participating?
We are also interested in the long term economic sustainability of social prescribing and in particular, the impact on the voluntary sector. It goes without saying that if you invest resources in developing a referral system you also need to ensure that you have sufficient capacity in that system to manage the resulting demand. There is a need to resource community assets but to do this effectively, we need to know which resources deliver the most value in terms of the health benefits we seek to achieve.
This reinforces the need for more and better evaluation of what works best, for whom, and in what settings.