Meet the Network – in-person meeting reflections

Engaging with the NHS – the barriers and opportunities

In March 2024, the London Social Prescribing Network held its first face to face meeting, bringing together our Network Members to explore the theme of ‘Engaging with the NHS’.

A small but perfectly formed group of members consisting of voluntary sector organisations and a link worker gathered to discuss what is seen as a constant barrier by the voluntary sector, particularly those who deliver social prescribing and health and wellbeing activities.

Despite engaging with the sector now being seen as integral to the new Integrated Care Systems, the system itself remains extremely unclear. Often, people working within health and wellbeing are unsure who to contact and how to go about this from the charity and community group point of view.

We wanted to find out directly from our members what their experience was and understand who they have engaged with already to identify the gaps in their knowledge.

Who do they know?

It became very clear from the exercise that very few of the organisations present had more than one contact to access the NHS or tell them about their work. Most were local e.g. GP surgery, only one mentioned having a relationship with their local social prescribing service but very few of them listed the commissioner for their area either in the NHS or even the local authority.

These are organisations who work with some of the Core20PLUS5 populations that the NHS is trying so hard to reach including people with learning disabilities, Black and African communities and people at risk of cardiovascular disease.

Language as a barrier

When asked who they would like to be in contact with, most of the organisations present didn’t really know who to ask for or what their title might be, further illuminating another key barrier which is language between the two sectors.

Some obvious people to try and find out locally in the system might be the Local Care Partnership lead, health inequalities lead or even the population health management lead to make them aware of their work.

These roles and the links between what the voluntary sector does and the NHS, didn’t even come up in their list of who they would like to be put in contact with.

So do organisations in the voluntary sector know about these roles? Although these are relatively new roles, they have a key part to play in supporting health inequalities and working with communities to have better outcomes. The exchange of information needs to work both ways.

Next steps

There is clearly still a lot of work to be done by the network but also the NHS to enable voluntary organisations to be more visible, so they can continue to do the good work with communities on the ground.

At London Plus, I am currently working on a document that will shed light on who to contact and how. The document, ‘How to Engage with the NHS’, will help our Social Prescribing Network Members develop strong relationships with key contacts in the NHS, for the benefit of both organisations.

To stay updated about this and our other exciting initiatives, sign up to the London Social Prescribing Network today.

Stephanie McKinley
London Social Prescribing Network Manager