NHS may soon prescribe social activities to support mental health

New standards and guidance on how society mandated activities, including exercise classes, garden clubs and arts groups, should be carried out across Wales are being developed to improve the mental health and well-being of people and alleviate pressures on the NHS.

Covid has had a profound impact on health and wellbeing, and social prescribing can play a key role in people’s access to non-clinical community support that can give individuals a boost.

Deputy Minister of Mental Health and Wellness Lynne Neagle today (Thursday 28e July) has launched a new consultation on social prescribing, which will solicit people’s input to plan a future non-clinical community support framework, which can include a range of activities, each playing a part in an early preventative approach by improving well-being.

The new framework will set out nationally developed standards, guidance and actions to ensure consistency of delivery across Wales.

In Wales, there has been a year-on-year increase in referrals and use of social prescribing over the past three years. Figures show an increase from over 10,000 people receiving social prescribing in 2018/2019 to over 25,000 in 2020/2021.

With its early preventative approach, social prescribing could help alleviate pressure on more frontline specialist services. Evidence from the University of South Wales suggests that social prescribing reduces doctor’s office attendance by 15-28%. Another study also found that patients used primary care services less, with a 25% reduction in appointments.

Deputy Minister of Mental Health and Wellness Lynne Neagle said:

“Social prescribing continues to benefit people’s well-being, especially their mental well-being, by helping people stay connected to their community and learn new skills. The aim of this consultation is to ensure a common understanding of social prescribing and a consistent approach across Wales to its delivery. Current evidence shows that there are variations across the country in access to social prescribing and awareness of available non-clinical support.

Furthermore, I would like the national framework to integrate prescribing social services where they do not exist or need to be further developed and identify areas where additional measures can be taken.

A center that helps provide social prescribing services in Cardiff is ACE – Action in Caerau and Ely. They work with local GPs and other partners to help people access the range of activities on their doorstep; work with the community to develop a range of health, wellness and support activities; and welcome other groups and organizations to their community building, the Dusty Forge.

Hazel Cryer, Health and Wellness Coordinator at ACE:

“Social prescribing allows us to reach new people through our local GP surgeries, bringing together more people from our local community to support each other and create new connections and friendships. We would like to see social prescribing grow and develop across Wales through this framework.

A project in partnership with ACE is Grow Well, run by local charity Grow Cardiff. This is a group of therapeutic community gardens, welcoming people of all ages. The group meets at three sites in South West Cardiff throughout the week to support health and wellbeing as they grow, sharing skills, engaging with nature, friendship and food .

Claire Terry, Grow Well Project Coordinator, Grow Cardiff:

“Having seen the incredible changes a project like this can make in someone’s life, it would be fantastic to see a network of community gardens across Wales connected to healthcare through services. of social prescriptions. We fully support this launch today.”

Joel C. Hicks