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NHS to recruit army of ‘social prescribers’ to relieve pressure on GPs

An army of workers trained to prescribe social activities as treatments will be recruited by the NHS to help patients deal with “the scourges of modern life” and help take pressure of GPs.

The NHS wants social prescribing ‘link workers’ to signpost people to services such as community services such as dancing classes, history groups, and sports clubs which it says can help people live healthier lives.

NHS England (NHSE) says it will hire 1,000 advisers by 2020-21, supporting GPs and freeing up their workloads to focus on patients who need their expertise – as well as using social prescribing to boost health and wellbeing, as opposed to prescribing pills or other treatments.

GP surgeries will work with each other in around 1,400 primary care networks covering the country as part of the NHS’s long-term plan, with each network having access to a social prescriber link worker paid for by NHSE.

By 2023-24, NHSE wants social prescribers to be handling around 900,000 patient appointments a year.

Dr Nikita Kanani, NHS England’s acting medical director of primary care, said: “We will be recruiting a substantial number of people to support general practitioners over the next five years, to help ease the workload and pressures that we know general practice is under.

“But we see the network of social prescribers as a fundamental change to the way primary care operates and vital to the future. Recruiting social prescriber link workers will be a priority target as a part of the Universal Care Plan.”

The chair of the Royal College of GPs, Helen Stokes-Lampard, commented: “Often the underlying reason a patient visits their GP is not medical, yet it can have a considerable impact on their health and wellbeing.

“Ensuring that GPs and our teams have good, easy access to people who can link patients with classes or groups in the community and other non-NHS services, that could potentially be of far more benefit than any medicine, is something the college has long called-for, so the focus on this is incredibly welcome.”

Part of the long-term plan, the blueprint for universal personalised care is due to be approved by NHS England’s board later this week.

Matt Hancock added: “As part of the NHS Long Term Plan, social prescribing will become an indispensable tool for GPs, who will be supported by a new army of workers.”

He called personalised care the future for the NHS, and said that millions of people would soon be able to access care “truly tailored to their individual needs.”


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