International Social Prescribing Day - 14 March 2019

It seems fitting that 2019 sees the first ever International Social Prescribing Day.

Fitting because lately these two words are being heard with increasing regularity, often in headlines such as “Combat Loneliness with Social Prescribing Says Theresa May” (Guardian, Oct 2018), and the NHS’s own well-publicised pledge to recruit 1,000 key workers to support GPs through social prescribing. But I wonder how many people truly understand what social prescribing is all about?

Year of wellbeing blogger JackieUntil the day I began volunteering as an administrator for a social prescribing project called ConnectWELL, I had no idea myself. All I knew was that, after battling and for the most part overcoming a major illness, I was looking for two quite basic things - to help people and to work in an office again. It took a few minutes to grasp the concept when it was explained to me, but then it all just seemed so obvious, it baffled me why social prescribing hadn’t evolved earlier.

"What does your organisation do?" is a question I’ve answered many times since I became Wellbeing Co-ordinator for ConnectWELL in April 2018. Cue confused frowns when I say "social prescribing!" So what is it? And how does it work?

The King’s Fund, an independent think tank in England, describes its purpose simply:


“Social prescribing enables GPs, nurses and other primary care professionals to refer people to a range of local, non-clinical services.”


NHS England give this explanation of how social prescribing works:


“Social prescribing involves helping patients to improve their health, wellbeing and social welfare by connecting them to community services which might be run by the council or a local charity. For example, signposting people who have been diagnosed with dementia to local dementia support groups.”


I think these descriptions cover social prescribing quite well in that if offers patients more than medicine alone, and whilst it doesn’t always replace more traditional resources, often it can (or certainly complement them). And it is not just for those suffering social isolation; it can be central in helping manage many long term conditions.

However, I think it’s sometimes as important to realise what social prescribing is not, as like with many new initiatives, it’s often misconstrued.

Social prescribing is not is a one-size fits all answer to a set of people with similar problems. It’s not a day centre, a support group or any number of well-meaning and often very beneficial projects - none of these in isolation fit the description, though they can all play their part.

It is also not a pre-judged course of action decided from a patient’s notes before they’ve even come through the door.

True social prescribing is as individual as the people it supports. It’s skilful and empathetic, enabling the understanding to seek the right support or activity for every person and to assist them to access the help they need.

How it all works in practice varies, I am sure, from organisation to organisation, but from my own experience at ConnectWELL, successful social prescribing comes down to the efforts of a small but dedicated team of employees and volunteers. Our volunteers fill roles as wide as their experience and skill sets - some choose to be administrators (collating up-to-date information about thousands of voluntary sector activities), while others opt to be involved in publicity. Our volunteer navigators offer face to face or telephone appointments, carefully listening to ascertain clients’ needs and wants in order to signpost them appropriately. Our health buddy volunteers are there for those who need a little extra support and will accompany them to their chosen activities for the first few sessions, encouraging them to engage once there, whilst simultaneously pulling back the level of support they offer. Their goal is for the client to independently access the activities of their choice by the end of the agreed number of sessions.

Social prescribing may still be in its infancy (although ConnectWELL has been involved in social prescribing since 2014), but with an estimated 50% of GP appointments not directly related to medical conditions and growing evidence showing that referrals to community services can boost health and wellbeing more than dishing out pills or other treatments, there seems little doubt it is set to continue and grow.

For me, I love being part of something that works so well, to see the change that social prescribing brings to people, and I hope that in a year’s time, on Social Prescribing Day 2020, these two words will be as familiar to everyone as a medical prescription is.


About the author

Jackie Skipp is the Wellbeing Co-ordinator for ConnectWELL.

She has been employed by the organisation since April 2018; prior to this, she volunteered for ConnectWELL as an admin volunteer, and has volunteered for most of her life in many roles, predominantly for animal charities. Jackie has always lived in Rugby and although she harbours a deep yen to live near the sea, is worried she would miss Rugby too much. Her loves in life include family, live music and swimming, particularly outdoor swims.

Follow them on Twitter at @_connectwell or on Facebook ConnectWELL Warwickshire. Click here to find out more:


Click here to find out more about Coventry and Warwickshire's Year of Wellbeing 2019.


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