Social prescribing: a pathway to work?
STEADMAN Karen, THOMAS Rosemary, DONNALOJA Victoria
This paper considers the social prescribing model through an employment lens. An initial review of the grey and academic literature uncovered little reference to the role of work in this context. This has not been a key feature of previous large-scale studies on social prescribing, which is itself a relatively new area of research and practice. The study took a two stage exploratory approach, comprising: a short survey with members of the UK Social Prescribing Network to better understand their experience of social prescribing, and where work fits in their views; and four case studies of social prescribing services, to explore how each service works, is delivered and experienced by clients in order to learn how social prescribing is, in practice, achieving a wide range of health and social outcomes, potentially including work. The aim of social prescribing is to help individuals find non-clinical solutions which will improve their health and wellbeing. Though it is unlikely that people will access or be referred to social prescribing services for the primary purpose of achieving work the paper argues that there are benefits in making work a more central part of the services, given that work is an important determinant of health and wellbeing. The paper identifies a number of elements that are critical to ensuring social prescribing can contribute positively to improving work-related outcomes for clients. These are: an engaged link worker; a patient-centred approach; strong links with a wide range of good quality community support; the ability to fill gaps in existing community support; and strong links (preferably co-location) with GPs. The paper also considers a number of barriers to improving work outcomes through social prescribing, which are: limited focus on health and wellbeing and health service use; lack of expertise around work and related challenges (e.g. welfare system); short-termism in service provision; low availability and quality of local service provision; and poor awareness of work as a health outcome. (Edited publisher abstract)