Physios have an ‘amazing role’ in social prescribing – an idea whose time has come

Allied health professionals have an ‘amazing role’ in social prescribing, James Sanderson, director of personalised care at NHS England, told a Westminster Health Forum conference.

Social prescribing, the theme for the event on 21 March, is a way for all health professionals to refer people to a range of local, non-clinical services. Exercise classes, reading or gardening groups, are examples.

Mr Sanderson told delegates: ‘For far too long we have developed some real and natural barriers between different areas of support.’

‘We have got to create new partnerships and social prescribing gives us an opportunity to do that.

‘What we are seeing emerging across the country is a great role for physios, OTs and paramedics in supporting person-centred care … delivering services in a different way.

‘Social prescribing gives us an opportunity to start re-thinking the way in which all professionals can work together.’

An idea whose time has time

Opening the conference, Michael Dixon, pictured, a GP and NHS England’s national clinical champion for social prescribing, said 20 per cent of his patients came with a social problem. He described social prescribing as ‘an idea whose time has come’.

Responding to a question from Frontline about the role of physiotherapists, either in referring their patients to facilitators or acting as social prescribers, Dr Dixon said: ‘Certainly physiotherapists should be able to refer their patients to social prescribing.

‘The degree to which we all actually do it ourselves, well, even as a GP from time to time I will suggest some sort of voluntary agency or activity for people who are perhaps already motivated to do it, and don’t need the social prescribing facilitator.

‘I think it is about a cultural mindset that we need to change, which is that physios don’t just give exercises and ultrasound and the like, and doctors don’t just give medicines and medical procedures.

‘We have got to think far wider in our everyday activities, and it takes time. Even my practice partners take time to see that with a particular person, actually the real problem is loneliness rather than their heart failure or their gammy leg.’

Physios support social prescribing

Adding to the discussion, NHS England’s social prescribing senior manager Bev Taylor said the country had some great physiotherapists who were very supportive of social prescribing. They were working with connected schemes that employ link workers to refer people.

‘There is some lovely stuff happening around support groups,’ she said.

‘You will all have heard of the story of children with hemiplegia who were taught to do magic tricks, rather than having physiotherapy. Because that was such a holistic, fun thing to do, they never thought they were doing something which was about their disabilities.’

A key issue raised at the conference was a lack of evidence to demonstrate that social prescribing works.

Deborah Collis, associate director of system engagement at the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), said that although NICE did not have social prescribing guidelines, many of its recommendations were directly related. Examples included those on exercise referral schemes, weight management, and older people’s independence and mental wellbeing.

‘There is quite a lot of evidence to put some strong recommendations in place,’ she said.

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