National framework for social prescribing announced in bid to ease GP pressures

  • ITV Wales journalist Katie Fenton reports

The Welsh Government has announced a national framework for social prescribing - an initiative that aims to better connect people with their communities and ease pressure on GPs.

It follows a year-on-year rise in referrals from around 10,000 in 2018/19 to more than 25,000 in 2020/21, according to the latest data from Public Health Wales.

Evidence suggests that social prescribing reduces the footfall to GP surgeries by 15% to 28%, with around 20% of patients going to their GP for social problems.

Social prescribing includes things like exercise classes, gardening and arts groups and can reduce anxiety, depression, loneliness and enhance self-esteem.

Mark 'Woody' Priscott has been attending a men's shed for five years and said it helps him cope with his mental health condition.

Research shows people may access social prescribing through their GP, but are more likely to access it via community resources, social care and the third sector, or self-referral.

Mark Priscott, known as Woody, has attended men's shed scheme The Dusty Shed in Ely since 2018 to help him cope with his schizophrenia.

"I was just like down in the dumps and didn't want to do anything and then I started coming here and it's brought me right out of my shell," he said.

"It's a comfort zone now. I come here and it's a safe place, I can relax, I can chill, I can lose myself in my work."

"Men, we don't talk about feelings, we just don't. But here you can chat to people about it, it's more open, it's like a little hub, like a little safe haven."

Tony Wallace said activities at The Dusty Shed give people a 'can do' attitude.

Tony Wallace, chair of the trustee committee at The Dusty Shed, said: "People come because they've had a major change in life situation.

"So they're separated, their partner has died or some other major thing has happened and they're in a state of either low self-esteem or depression. They come along to the shed and they start to talk to others who often have been in very similar situations.

"Social prescribing's an excellent idea. Unfortunately we're battling all the time to keep our funding up just for the work we're doing at the moment.

"If we're going to be involved in a structured social prescribing system, then we need to think about how that's going to be funded.

"I know that at the moment it's very difficult for governments to find funds, but we've got to make sure we keep these organisations up and running because without them we're just going to go further and further into problems with mental health."

The national framework, announced by the Deputy Minister for Mental Health and Wellbeing on Monday, will ensure there are more official guidelines when referring people.

Lynne Neagle MS said: "Social prescribing is not one size fits all, and it can have a tremendous impact on all areas of our lives.

"The framework that we're launching today is also about making sure that we use the money that's in the system better.

"There is funding in the system for social prescribing, we invest tens of millions of pounds in the Regional Integration Fund that Regional Partnership Boards spend.

"That can be used for social prescribing, so one of the things we're also doing is trying to make sure that there is more focus at that level on social prescribing because it's vital for prevention and to stop problems escalating."

The Welsh Government said the framework will not dictate how social prescribing is delivered but rather ensure there is consistent delivery regardless of the setting.

It hopes this will help to grow social prescribing by reducing the confusion about the benefits it can offer, make it sustainable in the long term and boost uptake.