On 14 March 2024, we celebrated Social Prescribing Day, championing the people, organisations and communities that make social prescribing happen. We took part by sharing the social prescribing work that goes on in our research group on Twitter/X. This blog is a roundup of the projects we shared, which we hope serves both as a demonstration of the impact of social prescribing and an inspiration for future work in this area.  

 

What is social prescribing?  

Social prescribing is a non-medical approach to healthcare that connects people to activities, groups and support in their communities that improve health and wellbeing, such as the arts, culture, heritage and nature. Social prescribers/link workers work closely with individuals to find the activities best suited for them. You can learn more on National Academy for Social Prescribing’s website 

 

Our projects 

The Social Biobehavioural Research Group’s work explores how different social connections and behaviours are linked to health outcomes, the psychological, biological, social and behavioural mechanisms underpinning these effects, and how effects are moderated by individual and societal factors. This includes research projects implementing and evaluating social prescribing, with a particular focus on underserved communities. We are also actively involved in policy making and endeavour to make evidence-based recommendations. Below we outline our key projects – past, current and present – that address social prescribing.  

 

Wellbeing While Waiting (INSPYRE)  

First up is Wellbeing While Waiting, our biggest implementation study. Young people face long waiting lists to get mental health support on the NHS and it’s uncommon for them to access social prescribing services, compared to other age groups. This project aims to develop and evaluate new social prescribing care pathways for young people to help address these gaps.  

We have worked with 12 NHS sites across England to co-design the social prescribing pathways and we have now entered the study recruitment phase. Over 200 young people have joined the study and every day link workers are referring them to activities in their communities. Next steps will involve thoroughly evaluating the pathways to develop a tested model that can be scaled nationally. This would enable more NHS Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) to help young people waiting for mental health care.  

If you are curious about the researchers behind this project, have a look at our SBB Spotlights with Dr Dan Hayes, who leads on this project, and Joely Wright, a Research Assistant/Social Prescriber that has been working on the project since its inception. 

 

Social Prescribing for Severe Mental Illness  

Another one of our ongoing projects is social prescribing for people with severe mental illness. Our research group is investigating how we can improve access to social prescribing for people with severe mental illnesses and remove barriers they experience in accessing this type of care.  

Social prescribing offers a holistic approach to health and has been found to improve the health and wellbeing of vulnerable groups. However, to date there is limited evidence on whether social prescribing is reaching people with severe mental illness and whether it’s effective.  

Hence, this project is exploring two crucial questions: whether social prescribing is reaching people with severe mental illnesses and how, and if social prescribing can improve the mental health of people with severe mental illnesses.  

Dr Alex Burton was awarded an MQ Fellowship to develop this work – you can read an interview with her on their website 

 

Arts for Everybody by One Nation/One Project 

Alongside our work in the UK, we also support the evaluation of social prescribing throughout 22 sites in the US, in partnership with the University of Florida Center for Arts in Medicine and Arts for EveryBody by One Nation/One Project. 

Utilising the learnings and tools from the UK, we are analysing the impact of social prescribing on individuals, communities and systems in the US, while also assessing the feasibility, acceptability and suitability of the programmes.  

This project aims to develop a set of key common outcomes for social prescribing in the US to help develop an outcomes framework for guiding social prescribing development and research in the US. 

 

Social Prescribing and Electronic Patient Records 

In the past we also worked with the NHS on one of our social prescribing projects. We used data from Whole Systems Integrated Care (WSIC) datasets to evaluate the outcomes of personalised care, including social prescribing, across North West London. Utilising another scale used by GPs, the Patient Activation Measure (PAM), we aimed to determine who could benefit from personalised care. This data was then used to identify who is being offered social prescribing and any systematic differences between patients who took up or declined the service.  

This piece of research, led by Dr Feifei Bu, found that patient activation, i.e. the knowledge, skills and confidence people have to manage their own health, is linked to healthcare utilisation. The results suggested that supporting patient activation could be a pathway to ease our burdened health systems.  

If you are curious about this research and the methodology used, the full paper is available here. 

 

INcreasing AdolesCent social and community supporT (INACT) 

Social Prescribing Day also coincided with the launch of our new national programme, INACT. It aims to improve pupil loneliness, social connection, mental health, academic attainment and attendance through social prescribing and signposting in schools.  

This 3-phase programme is a national collaboration between UCL, University of Manchester, National Academy for Social Prescribing and the Social Prescribing Youth Network. It will fill a critical knowledge gap regarding the suitability and efficacy of social prescribing for young people in schools. Phase 1 will involve developing the social prescribing pathway with schools. In Phase 2 the pathways will be piloted and assessed for feasibility, acceptability and suitability. In Phase 3 we will conduct a randomised control trial to evaluate the clinical effectiveness of social prescribing in schools to improve loneliness.  

We are currently recruiting schools to join this project. If you are interested, please have a look at the INACT page on our website 

 

Social Prescribing: Advancing Child and youth Evidence, policy and practice (SP:ACE) 

Our work doesn’t end at research. We are committed to translating research into practice and to developing the field as a whole. To advance these efforts, we were recently awarded a UCL-University of Toronto strategic grant.  

This funding will foster international partnerships that will help us address the underrepresentation of young people in accessing social prescribing for mental health. Researchers involved in this project are working on understanding the global landscape for youth social prescribing policy, practice and research, and bringing together an international consortium of experts to catalyse the field.  

 

If you would like to keep up to date with the development of our social prescribing work beyond Social Prescribing Day, we warmly invite you to subscribe to our quarterly newsletter