A Social Prescription for Elmbridge

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Social Prescribing has become something of a buzz phrase over the past year, and it is hard to read, see or hear anything about the NHS which does not refer to the benefits of a ‘social prescription’. But what is it? What does it all mean? Does it work? Where can you get it?

Put simply, social prescribing is a means of enabling GPs, nurses and other primary care professionals to refer people to a range of local, non-clinical services. There is an increasing recognition that people’s health is affected by a range of social, economic and environmental factors, and that traditional medical interventions can only do so much.

Social prescribing schemes can involve a variety of activities which are typically provided by voluntary and community sector organisations. Examples include volunteering, arts activities, group learning, gardening, befriending, cookery, healthy eating advice and a range of sports.

So rather than going to you doctor for pills to take, you could end up being ‘prescribed’ a walk each day or being encouraged to join a volunteer project or support others in your community. These non-medical interventions can be seen to have a more beneficial effect than traditional medical approaches.

Two areas are currently very popular, prescribing exercise and healthy eating.

Walton Charity has long been aware of the advantages of getting stuck into an allotment site. A combination of different types of exercise – digging, planting, weeding – being in the fresh air, meeting other gardeners and of course, ending up with fresh, organic food.

For those who are not ready to jump into having their own allotment site, we also offer a Community Allotment site, where those who need a bit more support can get all the advantages of gardening, but within a communal group who can provide mutual support.

Walton Charity also supports many projects which can form important parts of a social prescription. Love of Learning’s workshops on Cooking on a Budget are another good example. They run interactive hands-on workshops which incorporate demonstrations and tastings, with participants able to make a dish to take home as well as being able to share a dish with others. The sessions enable people to learn about nutrition and food hygiene as well as how to plan, budget and shop for nutritious family food. 

There is emerging evidence that social prescribing can lead to a range of positive health and well-being outcomes. Studies have pointed to improvements in areas such as quality of life and emotional well-being, mental and general well-being, and levels of depression and anxiety. Social prescribing schemes may also lead to a reduction in the use of NHS services.

While robust and systematic evidence on the effectiveness of social prescribing is very limited, one great advantage is that there are few, if any, negatives. You do not need a highly skilled pharmacist looking at combinations of drugs and their side effects if you want to go and dig your allotment plot. Eating freshly prepared food, rather than processed, is only going to improve your health and happiness.

Karen Heynike, Land & Estates Manager - Walton on Thames Charity