Social prescribing – a new way to think about healthcare

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A single mother, struggling with depression and anxiety, is told about a local mums’ group by a maternal and child health nurse. As a single parent who is new to the area, she has limited opportunities to socialise and is hopeful that she may make new friends at the mums’ group, but her anxiety means she is unlikely to follow-up on her own. The nurse puts her in contact with a care coordinator who will support her introduction to the group and help her make arrangements to attend her first session.

When an elderly lady visits her GP for a routine check-up, the GP notices that she’s been reading a novel while she was in the waiting room. As they talk about her health conditions, as well as her day-to-day life, her GP suggests that she join a newly established book club at her local library. The lady, who lives by herself, brightens at the idea, and takes down the details of a local council worker who can give her more information.

In all of the above instances, these health professionals were practicing a concept known as ‘social prescribing’ – a means by which GPs, nurses and allied healthcare professionals refer patients with a range of social, emotional or practical needs to community services or activities that address these issues.

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