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Living well in our communities: Progress on social prescribing

An overview of our evidence from our collaborative work across the health and VCSE sector on the topic of social prescribing. Here we explore and make recommendations on how to deliver the potential of NHS England’s significant investment into link worker roles and ultimately enable people and their communities to live well.

  • Person-centred care
  • Primary care
  • Health inequalities

The Importance of Social Prescribing

One of the significant changes needed across our health system is helping the NHS shift towards enabling people and communities to live well, rather than just treating ill-health. Like many across the health, care and Voluntary Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) sectors National Voices is determined to make the most of the investment NHS England is making in link worker roles in primary care. These roles form the bridge between the healthcare system and communities through the process of prescribing and signposting patients to community support, services, groups and activities for those who need them most.  

We shouldn’t underestimate the significance of this NHS investment, but we know that social prescribing also relies on an accessible and sustainable wider “ecosystem” across sectors, from the most formalised to the least, from big national organisations to the hyper-local. 

Rolling Out Social Prescribing

The report “Rolling out social prescribing” focused on the early phases of social prescribing roll out through Primary Care Networks. PCNs bring together groups of general practices across an area to provide enhanced patient care and support such as community, mental health and pharmacy. The report evidenced our learnings from over 300 members of the VCSE sector through a series of interviews, workshops and online engagements between December 2019 and June 2020. 

We found that the VCSE sector is supportive of social prescribing and keen to work constructively with the health system to deliver its potential, whilst also experiencing a range of barriers to doing so sustainably and effectively. More needs to be done to develop links between primary care and the VCSE sector, and to improve knowledge and understanding of the sector and its role in social prescribing and addressing health inequalities.  

The report includes recommendations targeted across different levels of the healthcare system and the VCSE sector, which are supported by NHS England. 

Changing lives, changing places, changing systems

In summer 2021, in partnership with New Philanthropy Capital and supported by NHS England and NHS Improvement, National Voices built on its earlier work on social prescribing to broaden the discussion on how it can support the wider shift across the health and care system towards better community-based support to help people live well with long-term conditions. 

Our 2022 report Changing lives, changing places, changing systems – making progress on social prescribing sets out what needs to happen to enable the personalised, targeted, community-based and preventative approaches to support which make up social prescribing.  

Our findings explore the structures, particularly within Integrated Care Systems (ICSs), that are needed to support cross-sector planning, funding and delivery of social prescribing. Improvements are needed in data flows to encourage more partners to get involved, and in the way we communicate about social prescribing, to make clearer how it fits into wider plans for supporting people to improve their health and wellbeing across communities.  

With ongoing pressures faced by the NHS, we know that this isn’t the easiest time to be pushing a new agenda. However, as we continue to live with the impact of the pandemic and cost of living crisis, the shift that social prescribing embodies – away from formal health services towards people and communities – could not be more timely.


Changing lives, changing places, changing systems – making progress on social prescribing presents the findings from a programme of activity undertaken in summer 2021 by National Voices in partnership with New Philanthropy Capital, and supported by NHS England and NHS Improvement 

Rolling Out Social Prescribing. Understanding the experience of the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector was funded and supported by the Personalised Care Group at NHS England and NHS Improvement. Members of the VCSE sector generously gave their time and expertise to enable this work.