Social prescribing growing in Wales as government launches national framework

Referrals and use of social prescribing in Wales more than doubled in the space of three years, from around 10,000 in 2018/19 to just over 25,000 in 2020/21.

Advocates say that, social prescribing of things like exercise classes, gardening and arts groups could help ease the burden on frontline specialist services through its early preventative approach. Evidence suggests it reduces the footfall to GP surgeries by between 15 and 28%.

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Social prescribing can vary from person to person, and is a way of connecting people, whatever their age or background, with their community. It can improve mental wellbeing, reduce anxiety and depression, enhance self-esteem, reduce loneliness and isolation, maintain healthy bodyweight, and help people live better for longer.

The new National Framework for Social Prescribing (NFfSP), launched by Wales’ deputy minister for mental health and wellbeing Lynne Neagle, seeks to support local action to mainstream social prescribing across Wales.

The framework will not dictate how social prescribing is delivered but rather ensure there is consistent delivery regardless of the setting. This aims to help grow social prescribing by reducing the confusion about the benefits it can offer, make it sustainable in the long term and boost uptake.

Neagle said: ‘Social prescribing is not one size fits all, and it can have a tremendous impact on all areas of our lives. It can support health and wellbeing, help people whilst they are on waiting lists and manage pain, reduce loneliness and boost employability by improving skills and confidence.

‘Social prescribing is woven into the very fabric of what the Welsh Government does in terms of empowering people and communities. We made a commitment to introduce an all-Wales framework to roll out social prescribing to tackle isolation, and improve outcomes for people by giving them more choice and control over their lives. It can also provide an improved sense of belonging when people get involved in the community.

‘I am delighted to set out our plans for a National Framework for Social Prescribing so we can better empower individuals to recognise their own needs, access support, and reduce impact on front line services.’

Dr Amrita Jesurasa, consultant in public health medicine at Public Health Wales, said: ‘Evidence shows that a broad range of social, economic, and environmental factors have a very real impact on the wellbeing of individuals and there will be times when people might need extra support with a wide range of issues affecting their mental, physical or social wellbeing.

‘Social prescribing helps connect people to groups and services in the community to support them with lots of different aspects of their life. For example, to reduce loneliness, to access physical health opportunities or to help manage debt. Through these preventative approaches, individuals are empowered to make their own choices and engage more with their community, and evidence suggests that the pressure on primary care services could also potentially be reduced through use of social prescribing.’

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