The NHS Plan and Social Prescribing

Blog by Damian Brady, CEO

Those of you who have the time to read the recently published NHS plan will have seen the commitment by NHS England to fund 1,000 social prescribers across England and Wales and to cover 100% of the cost of social prescribing link workers, up to a salary of £34K. Specifically the plan says that GPs “may choose” to fund a local VCSE organisation to run the service and employ the workers on their behalf.

There’s more info on page 98.

The announcement says nothing specific about funding for not-for-profit organisations, but it says that the worker will ‘support VCSE organisations to be sustainable’ – this could be interpreted as an investment in infrastructure but to be run by the NHS. Tower Hamlets CVS would suggest that social prescribing begins and ends with the individual and what they need and that it needs to be a sustainable, meaningful, holistic response to physical and mental health issues. Our experience of good social prescribing, and the delivery in our borough is very good, is that success comes from a true collaboration between commissioners (who have data and money) and the local voluntary sector (who have the knowledge, skills, interconnectedness and human relationships within specific places).

There is a real risk with social prescribing that the collaboration that makes social prescribing work so well could be lost if  there is any move to deliver social prescribing from within the system (rather than in partnership with the voluntary sector) as a result of funding pressure on the NHS and Primary Care in particular. Any such move to deliver social prescribing using an in house model only will mean that not only will social prescribing lose its real value over time, it will also further embed the lack of investment in the local voluntary sector which will mean that the local VCS is no longer there to deliver the benefits needed further down the line.

Bev Taylor the NHS England lead on social prescribing recently spoke at a social prescribing  networking event and suggested (that to maximise the prospect of collaborative approaches to social prescribing being used) that areas will have to produce a 'shared local social prescribing plan' which must include not-for-profit sector input. However, we all know of commissioners who will rub their hands together at the prospect of ‘money to follow’ and a chance to cut out the middleman.

Tower Hamlets CVS will be strongly advocating that the current collaborative local model for social prescribing is maintained that and thought and resources are directed to the organisations supporting people signposted to them by social prescribers. We want to ensure that this resource (which would be very welcome if used correctly) is utilised properly and supports the Sector rather than bypasses it.