Reimagining Social Prescribing: Roundtable Discussions with The Ubele Initiative – Part 1

Tracy Durrant from The Ubele Initiative shares insight into our social prescribing roundtables in the first of three blogs.

The Ubele Initiative, in collaboration with London Plus and the National Academy of Social Prescribing’s (NASP) Thriving Communities Programme, ran a series of three roundtables to explore what social prescribing looks like in Black and Minoritised communities.

The aim of these discussions was to discover how social prescribing can be effective for Black and Minoritised communities, to inform, connect and find ways to better support the sector. Below, Tracy Durrant from The Ubele Initiative writes the first of three blogs sharing insights from our discussions.

London Plus and The Ubele Initiative 

One of the Mayor of London’s key ambitions is to help more Londoners in vulnerable or deprived communities improve their health and wellbeing through social prescribing. In 2020, the Mayor of London commissioned an independent report to explore the social prescribing activities taking place in four boroughs linked to the London Borough of Culture.

“It was identified that there is a need for greater connectivity and coordination between the culture, health and care sectors so that link workers and health professionals know what cultural activity is available.” 

London Plus is supported by the Mayor of London, reflecting the crucial role that the voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector plays in improving health and wellbeing.

The roundtables were attended by professionals in the health sector, including social prescribers, public health professionals, and health & well-being/social prescribing activity providers. Attendees also included arts organisations, food growers, singing teachers, women’s health services, mobility & access services, parenting support and women’s empowerment services.

What is social prescribing?

Sometimes called community referral, social prescribing enables GPs, nurses and other primary care professionals to refer people to a range of local, non-clinical services to support their health & wellbeing.

‘Health problems do not always need medical interventions, and ill-health can be caused by external factors such as stress, poverty and inactivity. Social prescribing allows GPs and other frontline health professionals to refer patients to local support services provided by voluntary and community sector organisations. This is done through social prescribing link workers who advise on suitable community services focused on the individual.’ – London Plus

Roundtable One: The language and business of social prescribing

The roundtable took place on the 23rd of November 2021, virtually. The aim of this was to understand what language we use when talking about social prescribing. This includes establishing what terminologies are being used, as well as how we describe the process (from identifying a need for prescribing a social prescribing activity to its delivery).

What do we currently understand about social prescribing?

Our first question was to find out what we understood as a group about the definition of social prescribing. Generally, it was understood that social prescribing is a non-medical intervention, however, there was some confusion as to if a service could be considered social prescribing if the service wasn’t referred by an NHS service.

Some felt their work in social prescribing included advocating, consulting and hand-holding for the patient. Other attendees were clear that this was not typically a part of social prescribing. There was some understanding that the social prescriber could bridge the gap between VCSE organisations and the people in need of the services.

The roundtable highlighted the need for the voluntary sector to access more resources, primarily a more direct way of getting paid when residents/patients were referred to their services. As the conversation progressed, it was clear that the way we currently describe social prescribing is not clear enough and causes confusion which doesn’t help people access the services or deliver activities that could help the community.

See London Plus’ visual resource which defines the difference between a social prescriber, a social prescribing conversation and a social prescribing activity.

What does the social prescribing journey look like?

Woman doing sitting doing yoga and meditating in a park.

GPs could consider a more holistic approach to support patients’ needs through social prescribing activities, such as yoga classes.

It was felt that the voluntary sector has and is being relied upon by the Local Authority, NHS and government to provide health & wellbeing services, but there is a reluctance to financially support caregivers and voluntary sector service providers.

We discussed the many different words used for link workers, including ‘community connectors, navigators, prescribers, community development workers’. We also discussed the benefits and disadvantages of sticking to the terminology currently being used by the NHS.

There was some division in what terms are beneficial. Some felt the current words get in the way and prevent those who provide the services from getting the recognition for doing the work purely because their services are not accessed via the recognised NHS pathways.

Everyone agreed that the current social prescribing journey doesn’t support social prescribing activity providers in being acknowledged or directly paid for the services they provide. It was acknowledged that the sector has a long way to go, and it is essential for the money to follow the social prescribing activity provider.

Where do we see GPs fitting into this conversation?

Some attendees felt that GPs generally are unaware of when they can refer a resident to a social prescriber for help, opting to prescribe tablets when there could be a non-medical approach.

There was a desire for GPs to consider a more holistic approach that could support the communities needs. It was suggested that those providing social prescribing activities, who want to build connections with their local GP to be considered for referrals, could try to approach GPs directly.

However, getting in contact with their local Council of Voluntary Services (CVS) or local social prescriber could be a more efficient way to start building a relationship.

Resources and More

For more information and support, please see the links below.

Visit the London Social Prescribing Network Homepage to join our network.

Visit the Ubele Initiative’s website and subscribe to their mailing list.

BAYO is a space to find collectives, organisations and services across the UK run by The Ubele Initiative, with and for the Black community, to support mental health and wellbeing.