Last week while in the UK, I was invited to attend a forum on "social prescribing". This is a hot topic among mental health circles. But what is social prescribing, and should we have more of it in Australia?
What is social prescribing?
While there was debate at the forum about whether the term "social prescribing" was too clinical, it does convey the literal meaning of the term.
In a nutshell, social prescribing connects patients with support services in the community. Usually this is done to help manage mental health like anxiety and depression. Sometimes it's done alongside conventional treatment, but sometimes it's done as an alternative.
For instance, a GP may see a patient with mild depression. After talking, he discovers she likes arts and crafts. So he connects her with a painting or pottery class near her home.
Why is social prescribing beneficial?
So why is this gaining traction overseas? It's because studies have shown that social prescribing helps get patients back on the road to recovery. While also keeping them connected with their community, and exposing them to the benefits of social contact.
One UK study found that 4 out of 5 doctors wanted social prescriptions to be available at their surgeries. Especially exercise groups that offer emotional support to patients. However, there is currently a gap between people seeking social prescriptions, and being offered a program.
Some say social prescribing could "transform healthcare".
Halima Khan, who heads up the Nesta People Powered Health programme in England said, "It creates a new script for the consultation that enables both clinical and social elements to be taken into account. If you're just treating clinical origins then you're not getting to the root of the problem."
How does it work?
There are a few ways social prescribing can work. The doctor can refer their patient directly to a community group or activity. Or they can go through an intermediary support service.
Is social prescribing available in Australia?
There are whispers of social prescribing being used here in Australia. Trials and studies are underway to see if and how it could work. It's believed some places in Australia do give out "green prescriptions" to get patients out into nature as an alternative (or complement) to medication. This article goes into more detail.