National Voices conducted a piece of research commissioned by NHS England exploring the perspectives and experiences of the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) sector in relation to the NHS rollout of social prescribing. We heard from over 300 people through a series of interviews, workshops and online engagements between December 2019 and June 2020.
Our new report, Rolling Out Social Prescribing: Understanding the experience of the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector, details successes and areas in need of greater focus.
While finding a large number of examples of more effective health and care support for people, strong support from Primary Care Networks (PCNs), and widespread enthusiasm from VCSE organisations, the report makes recommendations for improvements - from the need for stronger relationships between VCSE organisations and primary care teams, to a call for a greater focus on tackling health inequalities, and highlights the need to provide VCSE organisations experiencing greater demand for their services with appropriate resources.
The commitment to rolling out social prescribing is part of the NHS Long Term Plan and included a goal to recruit 1000 link workers by 2020/21, with more to follow.
As GPs and other primary care services come under ever more pressure, ways of alleviating that strain have become even more important, with the holistic approach of social prescribing being used to support those in long-term care who are currently accessing Primary Care Networks for non-clinical needs.
National Voices found that the VCSE sector supportive of social prescribing and the way it has been rolled out, and confident of the long-term benefits it offers in terms of better health and care outcomes and more efficient use of NHS resources.
Other areas of focus from the report's recommendations include:
- The job descriptions and workloads of link workers
- The relationships between PCNs and VCSE organisations
- The need for more ‘bespoke’ arrangements around the country
- The ongoing inequalities that social prescribing alone will not solve.
"The commitment to social prescribing by NHS England was a bold move that spoke to the long-overdue recognition of the vital role organisations across the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise sector play in helping people with long-term conditions to manage their lives and to live as well as possible. Affecting a change this seismic at pace was never going to happen without some challenges along the way.
“Of course, as we spoke to our colleagues working in communities we heard about things we need to put right – not least the crucial issue of funding for our sector, which simply cannot continue to meet growing demand without sustainable resourcing.
“But there is also huge appetite to get this right for the people we work with. This is a sector that rolls its sleeves up and makes things work. In these times of immense pressure, we need more than ever the kind of holistic, person-centred support that enables people to cope with waits, with service changes, and with the impact Covid-19 has had on their lives and communities.
“Now is the time to heed the lessons learned from the first phase, make changes, and keep moving forward.”
The report has gained the support of many involved in the implementation and execution of social prescribing including Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the National Academy for Social Prescribing, who says:
"Social Prescribing is, at its heart, about strengthening relationships between people and their communities and supporting them to flourish. During the Coronavirus pandemic we’ve seen more clearly than ever how vital those links can be to keeping people healthy and supporting them to live well.
"This valuable report gives us really constructive insights into the initial rollout of the NHS England Social Prescribing project, including some of the great strides made, and where more focus is needed to make sure we support the wonderful work of our Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise sector colleagues most effectively.
"At the National Academy for Social Prescribing we want to see this movement go from strength to strength and we are looking forward to working closely with our colleagues to keep learning, keep improving and keep moving forward together."
We were pleased to welcome James Sanderson, Director of Personalised Care NHS England and NHS Improvement, to speak at our launch event in support of the report. This will be avaible to watch from Monday 14 September; please check back here or email firstname.lastname@example.org.