Social Prescribing Link Workers AKA ‘The Glue in Health and Social Care’

Author: Christiana Melam, chief executive officer of National Association of Link Workers, member of the BME Leadership Network and National Primary Care Network Stakeholder group
Social Prescribing Link Workers AKA ‘The Glue in Health and Social Care’
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Social Prescribing Link Workers have become a crucial new profession in helping to move to a social model of health which improves health and wellbeing for the population as opposed to those needing non-medical support being prescribed pills or unnecessarily accessing hospital services, writes Christiana Melam, chief executive officer at the National Association of Link Workers.

Those experiencing loneliness, isolation and mild mental health issues can benefit from a social prescribing link worker who will work with them to identify what matters to them and enabling access to co-produced solutions that may include, social groups, swimming groups, sports clubs, courses, food bank, community groups, dancing classes, and history groups.

The NHS Long Term Plan recognised the importance of the profession and how they can help to reduce the workload for GPs while at the same time building patient resilience and enabling access to community-based support that can help improve their health and well-being. As such NHS England is recruiting a 1,000-strong new workforce of social prescribing link workers in GP surgeries by the end of 2020/21 rising further by 2023/24.

Social Prescribing Link Workers are essential for personalised care service delivery in secondary care not only in primary care.

Social prescribing would be beneficial to hospitals experiencing:

  • A high level of discharge delays, resulting from non-medical issues
  • high levels of repeat attendances at A&E
  • a high number of non-elective readmissions
  • a high number of A&E users who have long-term conditions or low to moderate mental health issues

Social Prescribing Link Workers can support inpatients to transition out of hospital into the community. They can help to put in place support for people before they are discharged which can help improve discharge delays, freeing up bed space. They act as the glue between community, health and social care, joining it all together.

The impact of Social Prescribing Link Workers has been acknowledged by a growing number of NHS hospitals committing to social prescribing. 

The Life Rooms- Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust social prescribing service aims to provide social and wellbeing opportunities for Mersey Care service users and carers, as well as the wider community.  Evaluation shows how high dependency patients supported through social prescribing link worker are now actively supporting others and returning to paid employment.

A partnership between Royal Berkshire NHS Trust and Reading Voluntary Action saw two social prescribing link workers recruited to help with winter pressures. An occupational therapist working at the trust, says the evaluation was showing the life-changing effects of being linked to the services people need and helping people get more from life.

A partnership between Mind in Camden, Camden & Islington NHS Foundation Trust, Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, Hillside Clubhouse and the Resilience Network, as part of a Primary Care Mental Health Network is delivering easily accessible social prescribing one-to-one support to Camden residents struggling with their mental health. The main aim of the service is to support people to access community services, projects and activities to aid their mental health recovery. This initiative can help to improve patient care and reduce repeat attendance at A&E.

On 8 July 2019, London hosted a national Social Prescribing Link Worker conference in celebration of the first ever Social Prescribing Link Worker day. #LinkWorkerDay19 trended in the United Kingdom and had over 1.6million reach. The day was devoted to showcasing the impact of social prescribing link workers on the health and wellbeing of the population

NHS hospitals should make use of the trusted resource for Social Prescribing Link Workers to deliver holistic service to their patients, improve patient outcomes and reduce unnecessary pressures.

This blog was first published on NHS Voices, the NHS Confederation's blog for NHS leaders.