Extra funding for social advice a possibility

NHS England has announced that practices could receive an extra £1 per patient towards improving access to social prescribing by 2017/18 with a view to reducing GPs’ workloads.

Dr Michael Dixon, who is NHS England’s clinical champion for social prescribing, has suggested that the extra funding would provide GPs with the means to employ an adviser, who could provide patients with a “solution that is not medicine or a procedure”.

According to Dr Dixon, who employs a social prescribing adviser in his own practice in Devon, social prescribing works and is very important for general practice, as, where it works well, it reduces pressure on GPs. What’s more, he argues, at £1 per patient, it is a “tiny amount” and would be funded by the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).

He added that GPs should be able to access advisers in several ways, including a ‘practice-attached’ adviser who is paid for by the CCG or a ‘hub and spoke’ system for smaller practices where advisers go out to visit practices.

However, critics of social prescribing are doubtful of its effectiveness, with one saying that there is little supporting evidence that it works. A review published by York University last year concluded that only a few studies had advocated its use and all were of “poor quality”.

Meanwhile, another study carried out in East London found that referred patients had much higher consultation rates and actually used more prescription medications before referrals than controls.

NHS England, which included social prescribing in its ‘10 High Impact Actions’, said it was not aware of any current work to progress funding allocation for social prescribing.