Health and Wellbeing Alliance round-up: Social prescribing

Social prescribing involves a ‘link worker’ working in partnership with someone to help them identify and access support to address their social, emotional or practical needs.

The NHS expansion of social prescribing is in full swing, aiming for 1000 link workers to be in primary care settings by 2021, and 900,000 people referred by 2023/4. Social prescribing is not exclusive to health, but NHS England and Improvement are investing in this as GPs spend a lot of time supporting people with non-medical issues.

Social prescribing can make a real difference to people’s wellbeing across the country, and the voluntary and community sector will be crucial in making the programme’s ambitions a reality. While the programme recognises the importance of charities and community groups, our members have expressed concern that this expansion will not be sustainable or inclusive of all communities.


Organisations around the country already provide support which can be socially prescribed or deliver social prescribing schemes. Primary Care Networks (PCNs) must collaborate and coordinate with existing provision to learn from good practice and avoid duplication.

Funding has only been allocated by NHS England and Improvement to pay for the salary of a link worker. It will be up to PCNs to decide to invest in charities and community groups to support the delivery after a referral. This could be a drain on organisations’ reserves when many already struggle to cope with the quantity and complexity of demand. PCNs will receive funding in arrears which creates substantial financial risk for voluntary organisations facilitating social prescribing on their behalf.

The role of the link worker

Each link worker will be expected to make 400 referrals per year. There are concerns these targets are not realistic and could place too much focus on referral numbers, rather than making sure people achieve positive outcomes through the right support. Emphasising referral numbers may push link workers to focus on people who are quick and easy to refer to existing support.

The link worker job description includes supporting the set up and funding arrangements for new initiatives and make sure groups and organisations have appropriate safeguarding policies in place. PCNs will need to consider whether local community and voluntary organisations would be better placed to lead on community development. Volunteering is a key component of social nhsprescribing, and link workers need to understand volunteering and the local volunteering infrastructure.

Making sure people are involved in planning their support is vital to ensuring social prescribing delivers personalised care. PCNs will need to make sure link workers have the time and skills to work in this way. In addition, people who face barriers to accessing primary care and those who are excluded in communities will only benefit from social prescribing if there is investment to make sure support options are inclusive, and if link workers are supported to work effectively with these groups.

What you can do

Many organisations deliver social prescribing but have never used this term to describe their work. Consider whether you deliver support which can be socially prescribed and whether your organisation could benefit from referrals. If you want to learn more about social prescribing, the Social Prescribing Network is a good place to start.

Consider working with your local CVS to help your PCN to understand how to work with the sector. National Voices has developed guidance on PCNs and are working to understand what local conditions are needed to make social prescribing successful. If you are already involved in social prescribing you may want to look out for events run by the to help shape their delivery programme for 2020/21.


Social prescribing is a key issue for the Health and Wellbeing Alliance. As part of our role on the Alliance, NCVO will be holding a webinar on making social prescribing inclusive on 17 March at 11.00. In this webinar we will discuss how to make sure that the expansion of social prescribing tackles rather than reinforces inequality and exclusion. Find out more and register.


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Catherine Goodall Catherine Goodall is a senior policy officer at NCVO, working primarily on public services policy. She has a background in research and practice, working with local authorities and universities to drive service improvement and facilitating participatory action research.

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