4th International Social Prescribing Network Conference: Elemental’s Top 5 Takeaways

The 4th international Social Prescribing Conference took place on the 10th and 11th March 2022. The conference addressed key themes in social prescribing and discussed the latest experiences and data about social prescribing both locally and internationally. The conference covered a range of topics such as strategic developments in social prescribing commissioning, the utilisation of Integrated Care Systems, workforce development, and international developments. 

Key sectors including the VCFSE, children and young people, green prescribing, student champions and placements and many more were discussed during the two-day event. 

The conference featured a range of fascinating and engaging guest speakers, including Dr. Michael Dixon, Dr Marie Polley, Ms Janet Veitsch, Dr Sam Everington,  Ms Sian Brand, Dr Bogdan Chiva-Giurca, Dr Jan Joost Meijs and many more excellent speakers who discussed the roles of social prescribing and social prescribing around the world, the importance of Social Prescribing Link Workers and the priorities to develop the Link Worker role.  

If you missed the conference, here are our top 5 takeaways: 


Social needs and how Social Prescribing can help communities 

Research conducted by the RCGP Research and Surveillance Centre showed that up to 15 million people presented with social needs could have benefitted from social prescription in the 2020/21 financial year. These needs included mental health, substance misuse, abuse and long-term conditions.   Anant Jani, a Research Fellow at University of Oxford, also mentions that there was up to 4.4 million instances of personalised care and non-medical interventions in 2020/21, a figure that seems to display an underuse of these interventions in medical pathways. Dr John McGuiness then went on to suggest that we should support each other in tackling health inequalities through building evidence on social prescribing and its impact and look at who is accessing social prescribing at a local and care system level while also learning together through identifying and spreading best practices. Dr McGuiness then mentioned how data should only be a part of the solutions and we should use our human skills, our knowledge and our experiences of our local areas to help combat health inequalities. 


Tackling health inequalities 

Sir Michael Marmot came on to discuss ‘Health Equity in England: the Marmot review’ which is an independent review published in 2010 to propose the most effective evidence-based strategies for reducing health inequalities in England from 2010 onwards. Sir Michael came to discuss the 10 year anniversary of this report and the findings of this report 10 years on. A startling discovery was the fact that life expectancy among those born between 2010 and 2018 had begun to stall, with a correlation between lower life expectancies among those who live in the most deprived areas. To combat these inequalities, Sir Michael discussed the need to put fair distribution of health and wellbeing at the heart of government policy and giving every child the best start to life through giving children and young people the opportunity to maximise their capabilities, have control over their own lives, create fair employment and ensure a healthy standard of living for all. Sir Michael also mentioned how social prescribing will play a key role in this in order to address the needs of people in a holistic way.  


Priorities for Link Worker Development 

Social Prescribing Link Workers are vital for communities to overcome health inequalities. They support individuals in understanding the issues that may be affecting their wellbeing.  Christiana Melam, CEO of the National Association of Link Workers, discussed the priorities for Link Worker development and put an emphasis on all of us to take action to ensure that Link Workers succeed. Among the priorities listed, Christiana talked about education standards and providing high level training for Link Workers. According to NALW’s 2021 survey, the biggest issue Social Prescribing Link Workers are facing are both a lack of understanding of their role (40.9%) and a lack of understanding of their role boundaries (41.4%). The NALW are actively looking to improve education standards among Link Workers along with introducing a code of practice for both employers and Link Workers. It was reiterated that the priority for Link Worker development is everyone’s business. Commissioners, Government, Education Providers, Employers, Link Workers, Research Institutions and many more have a big role to play in ensuring patients, communities and healthcare systems receive the full benefit from social prescribing. 


Social Prescribing Around the World  

Among the excellent presentations, we also got the chance to learn about how different countries are enabling social prescribing and the different models that are used. It was fascinating to see how quickly social prescribing has grown in some countries, for example, in the Netherlands a national knowledge network known as “Wellbeing on Prescription” has been operating since 2010 and it is made up of a partnership of primary care providers, welfare workers, social workers and policy officials who come together to ensure municipalities are social prescribing. To date, 125 out of 351 municipalities are social prescribing with that number expected to grow. Nations like India and the United States have also begun to adopt social prescribing. In the United States, there has been a widespread adoption of social prescribing, with a localised approach which uses a diverse range of models across the nation. In India, they have the ASHA program, Link Workers are known as ASHA workers and they have been incorporated into part of the maternal & child health program, HIV prevention and interventions, and the TB program. 


Opportunities for Social Prescribing 

At the end of the two-day conference, the audience had the opportunity to vote on what they believe will be future opportunities for social prescribing. The point was raised that communities and connections are areas where we could aim to see more improvements in the future. We heard earlier in the day that some Link Workers employed by Primary Care Networks were, at times, not as well-resourced as Link Workers employed by the voluntary sector, while Link Workers being employed by the voluntary sector often felt disengaged from clinicians. Enabling collaboration was highlighted to be one of the key proponents to enact this change. Dr Marie Polley made the point that “It’s the people that champion the relationships that have then enabled the collaboration, and I feel like we are on the verge of realising now the value and impact of this”. she went on to add “if the funding can stay, and keep that collaboration there, then I think the next five years are going to be really exciting”. 


 If you would like to find out more about Elemental and how we can help enhance your social prescribing programme, please fill out the form below and we will be in touch.

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