Social Prescribing

Social Prescribing is one of three regional priorities identified in our

Strategic Framework for Arts, Health and Wellbeing in the south west.

The other regional priorities are Loneliness and Mental Health.

Definitions of social prescribing have originated from a variety of sources with the most clear-cut being proposed by the CentreForum Mental Health Commission as: ‘A mechanism for linking patients with non-medical sources of support within the community’.

In the Creative Health report Recommendation 6 is:

We recommend that NHS England and the Social Prescribing Network support clinical commissioning groups, NHS provider trusts and local authorities to incorporate arts on prescription into their commissioning plans and to redesign care pathways where appropriate.

The Social Prescribing Network defines Social Prescribing as:

“a means of enabling GPs and other frontline healthcare professionals to refer patients to a link worker – to provide them with a face to face conversation during which they can learn about the possibilities and design their own personalised solutions, i.e. ‘co-produce’ their ‘social prescription’- so that people with social, emotional or practical needs are empowered to find solutions which will improve their health and wellbeing, often using services provided by the voluntary and community sector. It is an innovative and growing movement, with the potential to reduce the financial burden on the NHS and particularly on primary care.”

The NHS Long Term Plan, published in January 2019, includes social prescribing as part of Personalised Care. The ambition is to make a fundamental shift in how the NHS works with patients and individuals to deliver more person-centred care, recognising – as National Voices has championed – the importance of ‘what matters to someone’ is not just ‘what’s the matter with someone’. Personalised Care includes personal health budgets.

Primary Care Networks are being formed by existing GP practices working together. These typically include 3 GP practices and serve 30-50,000 people but they vary across the country. Each Primary Care Network has an NHS Social Prescribing Link Worker, who may be based in a GP Practice or a Voluntary Community Sector organisation. In many areas, these Link Workers will collaborate with and build on existing social prescribing and community based approaches. The National Academy for Social Prescribing has recently launched the Thriving Communities Programme with opportunities to link to the Thriving Communities Network and upload your ideas and stories to the Ideas Hub. Each region has a Thriving Communities lead. In the South West it is James Day who is based in Dorset. Arts Council England is managing the Thriving Communities Fund which closes on the 8th January 2021. Arts & Health South West will be sharing learning from projects in the south west as they become established.

In the South West

Gloucestershire has a long history of arts-on-prescription and social prescribing. In 2004, Dr Simon Opher, a GP in Dursley, engaged an ‘artist in residence’ at the surgery and began referring his patients to them. You can read about the history of Artlift here. Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) was a commissioning partner pilot in the Cultural Commissioning Programme. There is now a well-established social prescribing programme across the county. Jules Ford is Senior Programme Manager for Social Prescribing and Cultural Commissioning at the CCG and is the Gloucestershire arts and health area lead. You can read a blog by Dr Simon Opher here. There are three webinars on Arts & Health South West’s YouTube channel that explain social prescribing in Gloucestershire: How the arts and culture are being embedded across Gloucestershire’s health system; Creative Health Response to Covid-19 in Gloucestershire;  Gloucestershire, Co-produced Arts and Health Interventions.

In Bristol, the Bristol Arts on Referral Alliance (BARA) is a partnership between Bristol City Council Arts & Events, creativeShift, Fresh Arts at Southmead Hospital, Knowle West Healthy Living Centre, Central Bristol Children’s Centre, Southmead Development Trust and Wellspring Healthy Living Cetnre who share a vision of the role of arts as an intervention to promote and sustain positive mental health and wellbeing.

You can find out about social prescribing in Somerset here: Social Prescribing in Somerset, then, now and in the future. This webinar is useful to understand social prescribing approaches in Bath & NE Somerset: Reimagining Creative Practice in the time of Covid .

Arts & Health South West is delivering the Community Connections Social Prescribing project in Weston-super-Mare in partnership with the For All Healthy Living Centre, Theatre Orchard and Alliance Homes.


Thomson, L.J., Camic, P.M. & Chatterjee, H.J. (2015). Social Prescribing: A review of community referral schemes. London: University College London.

Get involved!

How to Get Involved in the Arts & Health Regional Strategy

Join the Social Prescribing Network in the south west by contacting the lead Dr. Richard Kimberlee

Read and comment on the draft Quality Assurance Framework

What’s in your area?

  • Find out where your local Primary Care Network Link Worker is, or will be, based.
  • Which Voluntary Community Sector Organisations in your locality are delivering ‘social prescriptions’?
  • What’s on offer at your local GP Surgery, Library, Community Centre?
  • What is your local museum, arts centre or arts organisation currently offering that is or could be a ‘social prescription’?

Share: Contribute to building a picture of regional activity by contacting Alex Coulter

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