Social prescribing

Social prescribing is a key component of Universal Personalised Care.

Social prescribing is a way for local agencies to refer people to a link worker. Link workers give people time, focusing on ‘what matters to me’ and taking a holistic approach to people’s health and wellbeing. They connect people to community groups and statutory services for practical and emotional support.

Link workers also support existing community groups to be accessible and sustainable, and help people to start new groups, working collaboratively with all local partners.

Social prescribing works for a wide range of people, including people:

  • with one or more long-term conditions
  • who need support with their mental health
  • who are lonely or isolated
  • who have complex social needs which affect their wellbeing.

When social prescribing works well, people can be easily referred to link workers from a wide range of local agencies, including general practice, pharmacies, multi-disciplinary teams, hospital discharge teams, allied health professionals, fire service, police, job centres, social care services, housing associations and voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) organisations. Self-referral is also encouraged.

A standard model of social prescribing has been developed in partnership with stakeholders, which shows the key elements that need to be in place for effective social prescribing;

Social prescribing model - Collaborative, commissioning and partnership working; easy referral; workforce development; common outcomes framework; what matters to me; support for community groups.

Social prescribing complements other approaches, such as active signposting.  This is a ‘light touch’ approach where existing staff in local agencies provide information to signpost people to services, using local knowledge and resource directories. Active signposting works best for people who are confident and skilled enough to find their own way to services after a brief intervention.

Social prescribing link workers

In the Long Term Plan NHS England committed to building the infrastructure for social prescribing in primary care:

  • there will be 1,000 new social prescribing link workers in place by 2020/21, with significantly more after that, so that
  • at least 900,000 people will be referred to social prescribing by 2023/24.

This is part of the drive to Universal Personalised Care that will see at least 2.5 million people benefiting from personalised care by 23/24.

Social prescribing link workers are becoming an integral part of the multi-disciplinary teams in primary care networks (PCNs). They are part of the additional roles in the five year framework for GP contract reform and are included in the Network Direct Enhanced Service Contract for 2020/21.

This is the biggest investment in social prescribing by any national health system, and legitimises community-based activities and support alongside medical treatment as part of personalised care.

Working with our partners

Accelerated Innovation in Social Prescribing programme

Launched in September 2021, the Accelerated Innovation in Social Prescribing programme is an offer to bring together voluntary organisations with national reach (or ambitions) who can support social prescribing provision, help reduce health inequalities, and aid COVID-19 recovery strategies. It is a joint partnership with the National Academy of Social Prescribing and Royal Voluntary Service.

Thriving communities

Led by National Academy for Social Prescribing, Thriving Communities is a national support programme for voluntary, community, faith and social enterprise groups, supporting communities impacted by COVID-19 in England, working alongside social prescribing link workers. Thriving Communities will help them share learning, gain new ideas, access funding and develop partnerships across sectors. It is supported by Arts Council England, Historic England, the Money and Pensions Service, Natural England, NHS Charities Together, NHS England and NHS Improvement and Sport England.

Case studies


There is emerging evidence that social prescribing can lead to a range of positive health and wellbeing outcomes for people, such as improved quality of life and emotional wellbeing.

Though there is a need for more robust and systematic evidence on the effectiveness of social prescribing, social prescribing schemes may lead to a reduction in the use of NHS services, including GP attendance. 59% of GPs think social prescribing can help reduce their workload.


Support for link workers in primary care networks

An extensive programme of support and development is available to social prescribing link workers and primary care networks.

Learning network

Social prescribing NHS Futures collaboration platform is an online network for sharing resources and for discussion.  Membership is open to link workers, PCNs and colleagues involved in social prescribing. To join email

Below is a summary of other useful sources of information:

Health Systems Support Framework – digital social prescribing systems and services

In Summer 2021 the social prescribing and digital personalised care teams undertook a procurement exercise on behalf of the NHS through the Health Systems Support Framework (HSSF) .

Through initial procurement work being undertaken nationally, the HSSF makes it easier and simpler for local NHS organisations to identify and commission suppliers. All bids are assessed both for the quality and relevance of the product and the standing of the supplying organisation.

In this case, the social prescribing and digital personalised care teams were looking for suppliers who could demonstrate the ability to provide case management systems with workflow capability, and the ability to link up with both GP IT (and other originating systems) and to local directories of social prescribing services.

Organisations wishing to find out more about the HSSF or to commission a supplier for a digital social prescribing system or service can register for access to the HSSF workspace.

From here, organisations will also be able to find supporting information to assist with the procurement and contracting process, including a buyers’ guide specifically for the digital social prescribing case management and workflow systems service line. Information on suppliers can also be found on the Health Systems Support Framework website.

Contact details for further information