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An introduction to social prescribing

An introduction to social prescribing

The goal of social prescribing is to improve patients' health by providing them with a non-clinical intervention. Social prescribing aims to de-medicalise health conditions and support patients to take more control of their own health. It aims to treat patients - not illness.

The department of health published a whitepaper over ten years ago called 'Our health, our care, our say: a new direction for community services'. The whitepaper talks about integrating services to enable health, independence and well-being.

The Government is investing over £4 million in social prescribing. This investment will help refer patients to voluntary and community services, such as walking clubs gardening or arts activities.

Social prescribing is de-medicalising healthcare, providing non-clinical interventions and helping patients to take more ownership of their health. What other healthcare interventions can be classified as 'social prescribing'?


Diabetes UK has developed 'information prescriptions' that contain practical advice for your patients on how to improve their health.

The Information Prescriptions are available in Vision. They are one-page documents that contain practical advice for your patients on how to improve their health. You can adapt them for each patient and print them during a consultation and give them to the patient to take away.

Sign-up to receive the new information prescription templates

We recently discussed 'social prescribing' with Kimberley Littlemore from PocketMedic. PocketMedic is producing graphically illustrated 'information films' in partnership with the NHS that clinicians can 'prescribe' to patients to help them take more control of their health.

It's easy to 'see' the benefits of 'social prescribing'.

  • looks for non-medical, often community-based interventions
  • encourages and supports patients to take more control of their health
  • helping present a more holistic view of the patient's healthcare.
But where is the evidence?

Dr Michael Dixon (NHS England's national clinical champion for social prescribing) points out:
...the biggest task is in trying to collate examples and evidence that will enable me to fight the case for general practice, and funding for this to happen – in areas where it’s not."

Real life evidence 

The good news is the evidence is there, today. Kimberley Littlemore from PocketMedic recently conducted a controlled trial with Aberystwyth University looking at patients with lung disease who received one of three interventions:

  1. Pulmonary Rehabilitation (PR) alongside PocketMedic information films
  2. Pulmonary Rehabilitation only
  3. information films only

Tests found a significant difference in the self-management knowledge of participants who watched the information films and attended Pulmonary Rehabilitation classes compared to those who solely went on the course.   And people who just saw the films did as well as those who just did the course indicating that film can be an equally powerful way of sharing information.  It was a small study but gives the team grounds for embarking on a much bigger study of the effectiveness of film as a driver of behavioural change.

Social prescribing isn't a replacement, it's a supplement

Kimberley Littlemore sees an opportunity for PocketMedic films to be there for people when other options aren’t easily achievable.  The films can:

  • fill the gap when there isn't a face-to-face course available (such as PR or counselling)
  • offer easy access to educational films from wherever a patient is
  • reduce difficult travel - if a patient is unable to travel or the clinic is inconvenient
  • be watched as many times as the patient desires
  • signpost patients to other care options 

The films cost pennies-per-patient population; they provide an evidence-based, cost-efficient resource for the NHS.

How you can access these videos

Dr Tom Hodges-Hoyland, Vision's population health management specialist, is an advocate of providing everyone with more information to help manage health. Dr Tom has been working with PocketMedic to integrate the 'information films' into the Diabetes Management - Welsh Gateway Module, to support the Welsh Enhanced Service. 

GP practices in Wales will soon be able to 'prescribe' the online videos to patients. Clinicians can print out the web link to the films and give them to the patients during their consultation. Soon, there will be an option to send the videos to patients via SMS (text message), so the patient can watch them on their smartphone. 

 Introduction to PocketMedic example video below. 

Behavioural change for good

Kimberley Littlemore is looking at how film can drive behavioural change. She has a passion for using the power of storytelling combined with graphic illustration to show how people are living well with their condition.  She is always delighted when evidence is produced to show that this approach encourages others to make positive changes to their lifestyle.  

Kimberley understands that many people are not confident to self-manage their chronic conditions in between visits to their GP or consultant.  Providing access to expert clinicians and expert patients in a short, accessible film can help build confidence and empower patients to take charge of their health.

What's next? 

The PocketMedic team are working on a variety of films for different conditions:

  • a series on dementia aimed at patients, carers and clinicians
  • films introducing type 2 diabetes for the BAME community
  • films about the psychology of eating and dieting, to support people told that they are prediabetic
  • and exploring films about diabetes specifically for the prison population.

We are delighted to integrate the 'information films' into Vision to support patients with diabetes in Wales. We understand that the NHS is under an enormous amount of pressure and diabetes is on the rise. If we can help the NHS by providing technology that allows integration between primary and other specialist care, it can help improve the awareness of avoidable diseases.


Social prescribing to me means changing my behaviour. It means educating myself about what is available to me, that could help me make a positive change to my lifestyle without the need for medication. This could be 'socially', for example walking groups, cooking classes or being able to access relevant educational information to help me improve my health and well-being. 

The pressure on primary care is increasing. Fewer GPs must deal with growing patient demand and expectations. However, the good news is we are lucky to live in an 'information age', with the right access to the proper education and information, we can take control of our health and help others to do the same. 

Sign-up to receive the new Diabetes UK information prescription templates

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