In a bid to help combat loneliness and isolation fuelled by the coronavirus pandemic, the NHS has stepped up its recruitment efforts for social prescribing link workers.
Already, more than 1,200 of these workers are helping people improve their mental health and get more exercise through participation in a wide range of activities, from gardening to ballroom dancing.
Now, in order to further capitalise on the successes already achieved, the NHS is fast-tracking recruitment of an additional 500 workers, who will work alongside family doctors and a growing number of primary care clinical staff in order to provide more than 125,000 people per year personalised support.
One in five people who visit a GP surgery do not have a medical problem but could benefit from a healthier lifestyle or greater social interaction.
Introduced as part of a range of measures last year, social prescribing link workers will spend time with patients to understand the reasons for them seeking help and support people getting involved with activities to boost their activeness, socialisation and wellbeing.
The NHS made a commitment to employ 1,000 social prescribers by March 2021 as part of the Long Term Plan – a target it has already surpassed.
With issues of loneliness, isolation and mental health problems being further compounded for many people as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and the restrictions put in place to help combat it, the NHS is allocating additional funding to groups of GPs to allow them to further care for their patients, with hopes a further 400,000 people a year could benefit from the additional support that link workers can provide to local communities.
Nikki Kanani, London GP and NHS Medical Director for Primary Care, said: “Link workers have been front and centre of the NHS’ response to Covid-19, helping some of our most vulnerable people with everything from accessing vital medicine to relieving loneliness during the lockdown.
“And as the NHS continues to support Covid patients while offering its usual world class care, link workers will remain vital, helping to improve people’s quality of life and emotional wellbeing and keeping them healthy.”
James Sanderson, Director of NHS Personalised Care, added: “There is no one size fits all approach to a person’s health which is why the NHS will support 2.5 million people with long term conditions by 2024 to be actively involved in their own care and improve their long-term wellbeing.
“By putting people in contact with services and activities that matter to them, from cooking classes to walking football, they will not only be able to develop new skills, but will also be able to improve their health and wellbeing.”
Wider access to social prescribing support is part of the Government’s Loneliness Strategy from 2018 and, in October 2019, the National Academy for Social Prescribing was established by the Department for Health and Social Care to better inform how local teams could best support those who needed their help.
Chair of the National Academy for Social Prescribing, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, said: “Link workers are an excellent new addition to the primary care team and are already having a great impact in helping people live their best lives.
“The academy is building the resources needed to enable social prescribing to thrive and the additional support for PCNs from NHS England is therefore warmly welcomed.”