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Below you’ll find answers to the questions we get asked the most about Social Prescribing.
Social Prescribing is a means of enabling GPs and other frontline healthcare professionals to refer patients to a Social Prescriber/Link Worker - to provide them with a face to face conversation during which they can learn about possibilities and design their own personalised solutions (i.e. ‘co-produce’ their ‘social prescription’) so that people with social, emotional or practical needs are empowered to find solutions which will improve their health and wellbeing, often using services provided by the community and voluntary sector. It is an innovative and growing movement, with the potential to improve health outcomes for participations and as a result, reduce the financial burden on health care systems and particularly on Primary Care.
A Social Prescribing service generally has a number of key components:
Many different models of Social Prescribing exist across Ireland and the common theme across all is the presence of a Social Prescriber/ Link Worker.
Most Social Prescribing projects in Ireland are geared towards adults over the aged of 18 years, including (but not exclusively) people:
There are a number of newer Social Prescribing Projects geared towards children and young people i.e Family Support Hubs
The ultimate aim of the Social Prescriber/ Link Worker is to connect people to community groups, organisations and statutory services for practical and emotional support with the purpose of improving their health and wellbeing.
The Social Prescriber/ Link Worker works in true collaboration with a person over a period of time, working together on their needs and goals. The Social Prescribing Link Worker can motivate and support individuals to achieve the change(s) that they want to achieve.
Sometimes it is possible to achieve the desired outcomes in a short space of time and whilst for others the outcomes will be achieved over a longer period of time.
Social Prescribing Link Workers come from a wide variety of backgrounds such as community development, counselling, community education, social work, social care among others. They have a mix of skills and personal qualities which they bring to the role. In addition, they have excellent listening and communication skills, empathy, emotional resilience and are able to work in a person-centred, non-judgemental way across whole, diverse communities.
This varies from service to service but typically the Social Prescribing Link worker is either based in a local Community & Voluntary organisation, for the most part but also within GP practices or Primary Care Teams.
Referrals to the Social Prescribing Link Worker come from various sources including Health Professionals (e.g GPs, Nurses, Mental Health Services, Social Workers, Health & Social Care Professionals) and other Voluntary and Community organisations. Many Social Prescribing Services also accept self-referrals.
Please go here to the members map to see if there is a Social Prescribing Service available in your area.
Active signposting generally involves existing staff in general practices, libraries and other agencies providing information to signpost people to community groups and services, using directories and local knowledge. Signposting works best for people who are more aware and capable enough to find their own way to community groups and services, after a brief intervention.
This complements Social Prescribing, which supports people who lack the confidence or awareness to approach other agencies or to get involved in community groups on their own. The personalised support of Social Prescribing Link Workers gives people time and confidence to understand what matters to the participant, work on any underlying issues which affect they ability to engage with services.
There is growing evidence which shows that Social Prescribing improves mental health and physical health and reduces social isolation and loneliness (Chatterjee, et al., 2018). A number of evaluations have been conducted to date on the Island of Ireland demonstrating positive findings on participant health & wellbeing (South Dublin County Partnership, 2020 & HSE, 2015). A review of the evidence assessing impact of Social Prescribing on healthcare demand and cost implications was undertaken by the University of Westminster in 2017. This showed average reductions following referrals to Social Prescribing schemes of 28% in GP services, 24% in attendance at A&E and statistically significant drops in referrals to hospital (Polley & Pilkington, 2017).
Chatterjee, H. J., Camic, P. M., & Lockyer, B. (2018). Non-clinical community interventions: a systematised review of social prescribing schemes. Arts & Health, 10(2): 97–123
South Dublin County Partnership (2020). Get Well Connected: An Evaluation of South Dublin County Partnership Social Prescribing Pilot Project. Dublin : South Dublin County Partnership.
Polley, M. J., Pilkington, K. (2017). A review of the evidence assessing impact of social prescribing on healthcare demand and cost implications. University of Westminster.
The community and voluntary organisations and services that people are referred to are broad and diverse and depend on the existing options available locally. These include physical activity initiatives like Parkrun, walking groups, reading groups/books for health, library services, stress prevention/management programmes, self help, adult education, men’s sheds, community gardening, arts and creativity and many more. In some Social Prescribing Services if there is a gap in a particular community activity the Social Prescribing Link Worker can work with local community & voluntary partners to address this need.
Social Prescribing services adapted quickly to provide an invaluable link to people impacted by the pandemic who were experiencing loneliness and social isolation. Examples included online programmes including wellness workshops exercise classes and coffee mornings, coaching on how to use online platforms, distributions of wellness packs, supporting clients with very basic mental health tips, how to keep a routine, tips for sleep and exercise, and signposting to local supports and Covid-19 response services to get support around collection of groceries and medication.