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How councils can maximise social prescribing and improve social care

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With social prescribing explicitly identified as a priority in the £42 million Accelerating Reform Fund, Jennifer Neff, former Community Development Worker and Managing Director of Access Elemental Social Prescribing highlights the significant impact this can have on adult social care.   

A day doesn’t go by without there being news about the increasingly challenging circumstances in delivering social care services, so additional government funding, such as the Accelerating Reform Fund (ARF) published last October was positive news for local authorities (LAs).

With there being an explicit reference for councils – as part of an ICS Consortium – to consider social prescribing when making their submissions this month we’ll hopefully see a positive shift towards scaling-up this essential service in social care.

Traditionally seen as a referral service from primary care to help support individuals with wellbeing concerns such as loneliness or long-term conditions, social prescribing’s role in social care can sometimes be overlooked.

Yet, it’s always been about cross-community support and development. Social prescribing is a vital method of care that can improve public health and address inequalities.

For example, councils such as Barnet have used social prescribing as an essential preventative service to understand and address citizens’ wider well-being and lifestyle needs, which has helped relieve pressure on referrals to its social care services.

Likewise, Tandridge Council has used social prescribing as a wraparound service for those waiting to receive social care, ensuring that their wider social concerns can be addressed.

This, in turn, has meant that the social care worker’s role has been more impactful because wider issues such as isolation and cost of living anxieties are already being addressed or have been resolved by the time they see the individual.

Whilst these types of examples exist, social prescribing has the scope to offer significantly more benefits to LAs if scaled up; enabling a whole-person approach to care and diverting demand away from already stretched services and a burnt out workforce.

Digitisation is key to enabling this, however, we must acknowledge that the funding isn’t exclusively available for social prescribing and councils may have other priorities when making their submissions.

But it shouldn’t be an either/or choice.

The wider benefits of social prescribing come from when the service is fully integrated and supports a council’s asset-based community development approach to services.

Particularly as evidence from NHS England suggests that 20 per cent of those receiving social care services will need a referral for community services too.

Plus, with £42 million only stretching so far, the scaling-up of these services should be considered a long-term investment for councils which can address their key priorities and help meet widespread needs in social care.

For example, the digitisation of capturing and sharing referral information, managing referral pathways, and recording and managing outputs can cost less than £40,000.

Yet it would enable an LA to scale up from supporting around 250 citizens a year to their entire community population.

When used as part of an integrated approach to delivering services, social prescribing can play a significant role in helping councils tackle their social care and public health priorities.

It has proven to be a cost-effective way, particularly when enabled by digital tools, to meet the needs of commissioners and support the wider ambitions of joined-up health and care.

Therefore, it’s vital that it’s not overlooked – we’ll obviously know more when the funding allocations are announced.

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