Social prescribing – frequently asked questions

NHS England has worked with key stakeholders to identify the key elements of good social prescribing, which form the basis of the standard model of social prescribing. These are:

  • Social prescribing link workers employed to give time to people to focus on what matters to them
  • Collaborative commissioning and partnership working
  • Easy referral from all local agencies
  • Workforce development
  • Co-produced personalised plan, based on what matters to the individual
  • Support for community groups
  • A common outcomes framework

Social prescribing link workers play a key role in delivering social prescribing by giving people time, focusing on ‘what matters to me’ and taking a holistic approach to people’s health and wellbeing in order to connect them to appropriate community groups and services.

Social prescribing link workers play a pivotal role by developing trusting relationships and providing personalised support. As a result, their work:

  • strengthens community resilience
  • reduces health inequalities by addressing the wider determinants of health, such as debt, poor housing and physical inactivity
  • increases people’s active involvement with their local communities

Social prescribing 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.

Sometimes, different names are used to describe the link worker role. These include community connector, wellbeing advisor, community navigator and health advisor, depending on local preference.

No. Prior to their introduction in PCNs as part of the Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme, link workers were often part of ‘social prescribing connector schemes’, which have often been run by voluntary sector organisations, providing a single point of contact in a local area and supporting integrated working amongst local agencies.

Under the NHS Long Term Plan, NHS England committed to building the infrastructure for social prescribing in primary care such that at least 1000 new social prescribing link workers would be in place by 2020/21, with many more being recruited in the following years so that by 2023/24 at least 900,000 people will have been referred to social prescribing.

In embedding social prescribing link workers in multi-disciplinary teams, PCNs have the flexibility to engage link workers themselves, or to work in partnership with existing local social prescribing services. PCNs can use whatever contractual arrangements work best at local level to facilitate these partnerships. It is important, therefore, that all local partners, including ICBs, local authorities, PCNs and voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) leaders work together to find the best local arrangements for embedding social prescribing services in PCNs and that, regardless of the engagement model, link workers collaborate in local areas, to overcome isolation, make best use of limited resources and develop strong connections with local communities and partner agencies.

Though a large proportion of social prescribing referrals are made by GPs, people can be easily referred to local social prescribing link workers from a wide range of local agencies, including wider general practice, local authorities, pharmacies, multi-disciplinary teams, hospital discharge teams, allied health professionals, fire service, police, job centres, social care services, housing associations and VCSE organisations. Self-referral is also encouraged.

No. Many social prescribing schemes are commissioned by local authorities or ICBs, with delivery partners mainly in the VCSE sector. They are also likely to be co-commissioned by partnerships of health and social care working with the voluntary sector, community groups and other statutory agencies.

Social prescribing links people to a wide range of community groups and services. This may include creative activities such as art, dance, and singing or other activities such as knitting, cooking or sports, for social support and to improve wellbeing. Green social prescribing initiatives such as walking groups and gardening clubs can also play a role in improving mental health. Social prescribing also often links people to statutory services such as debt counselling, housing services and other agencies for practical and emotional support. Decisions on which group or service to connect with depends on the needs and desires of the individual.

There are many of these schemes, which can be described as ‘active signposting’ schemes. This is a light touch approach where existing staff in local agencies, such as GP surgeries and libraries, provide information to signpost people to community groups and services, using directories and local knowledge. This often works best for people who are confident and skilled enough to find their own way to community groups after a brief intervention.

This complements social prescribing, which supports people who may require additional knowledge and support to approach other agencies or to get involved in community groups. The personalised support of social prescribing link workers gives people the opportunity to work on the underlying issues which may be affecting their health and wellbeing.

Social prescribing has an important role in supporting the development of community groups, working in close partnership with local agencies. Link workers often have strong knowledge of their local community groups, and work to map community assets to recognise gaps in community provision and to find creative ways of encouraging development. Social prescribing link workers can work alongside existing community groups, as well as local commissioners and other agencies to do this.

Specialist social prescribing roles for children and young people are being developed across the country to support the NHS Long Term Plan ambitions, as we believe that many young people access support through schools, colleges and other local agencies rather than through general practice. Across the country, local areas are also looking at how to reach people who may not have easy access to a GP, such as people who may be homeless, have problems with substance abuse, or who struggle to connect with primary care.

It’s also worth noting that social prescribing is not a one-size-fits-all national programme. Our approach is to support local areas to nurture innovation and to develop creative approaches.

There is a growing body of evidence which shows that social prescribing improves wellbeing for people, giving them more control over their lives. Additionally, evaluations of local social prescribing schemes have reported reduced pressure on NHS services, with reductions in GP consultations, A&E attendances and hospital bed stays for people who have received social prescribing support. In 2017, the University of Westminster published an Evidence Summary, which identified 28% fewer GP consultations and 24% fewer A&E attendances for people receiving social prescribing support.

As part of a wider model of personalised care, NHS England is working with social prescribing services to build the evidence base, encouraging all local areas to consistently measure impact. This includes impact on the person receiving support, the health and care system and on community groups receiving referrals.

Social prescribing is not the only approach to addressing the wider determinants of health – or prevention of ill health. In many areas of the country, integration of health, social care and other local agencies is helping to address some of the broader issues. However, we also have to be pragmatic: many people go to their GPs because it’s a familiar route to seek help. Social prescribing provides a way to enable general practice to help people who have more than just a medical need.

A wide range of digital providers are providing apps and creating platforms to support social prescribing referrals. It is also important to remember that digital tools should complement personalised, and individual, approaches. For many people human support is key, and referral to an online directory alone is not going to work for many of the people we are aiming to support.

By joining the Social Prescribing Network, your membership will provide you with optional access to the national Social prescribing monthly bulletin, the Social prescribing FutureNHS collaboration platform and you will also receive notifications on our events and monthly webinars. The collaboration platform is a dedicated space for those working with, collaborating with, and supporting social prescribing. It is also a useful space for social prescribing link workers (SPLWs), and people working with primary care networks (PCNs), to connect with others in the network and to access resources, social prescribing guidance and key documents. It is a virtual space to share ideas, collaborate, and learn together.

Dedicated regional networks for the London region and the Yorkshire and Humber region are also hosted on the collaboration platform. These areas on the collaboration platform are supported by each region, supporting SPLWs and connecting them to local and regional training, support, forums, and network opportunities.

There is also a dedicated Green social prescribing workspace on the collaboration platform and a private area for the Green social prescribing test and learn sites, as well as a Maternity, children and young people’s social prescribing workspace and an NHS Social prescribing champions workspace.

Please note that the FutureNHS Social prescribing collaboration platform is not a place to advertise or sell services or items; you cannot advertise external services. If you do, you risk having your membership removed.

Membership of the platform is designed to support people who are currently active in social prescribing, such as SPLWs. This means we are required to sign up individuals with their organisational email address and cannot add personal emails. If you do not have an organisational address, we cannot process your request.


Those wishing to join the Social Prescribing Network (including the mailing list, monthly bulletin and the FutureNHS Social prescribing collaboration platform) should complete the new joiners sign up form.

To unsubscribe from the Social Prescribing Network, please use the unsubscribe link in the Social prescribing monthly bulletin, which you will receive via email.

If you are having difficulty accessing the platform, please consider if you have signed up with multiple email addresses – the email used for the collaboration platform and for your login details need to match. If you have any other technical issues please contact the FutureNHS team at

You can register using the joining link that is advertised on the Social prescribing collaboration platform, Social prescribing monthly bulletin, Primary care bulletin, twitter, through regional updates and via several stakeholder communication channels. All webinars are published on the Social prescribing national webinar series NHS England events page.

You can access the webinar recordings and slides of all previous social prescribing webinars in the webinar library on the collaboration platform. It usually takes a few days to upload recordings from each webinar to the collaboration platform. If you do not have access to the platform, you would need to sign up to access webinar recordings and slides using the new joiners sign up form. Unfortunately, we are unable to email recordings of our webinars.

The joining link is emailed to you, using the email you used to register, on the morning of the webinar, around 10am. Please do not share your joining link with others, as we need to approve all registrations.

Please check your spam folder and if the joining link has not been received, email us at

NHS England do not supply email addresses to SPLWs. You should contact your PCN or GP supervisor to set up your email account. You should be allocated an NHS email address even if you are employed through a voluntary or community provider on behalf a PCN.

You can log into your NHS email using the webmail login: From here, you should be able to complete your registration and set up your profile. Unfortunately, the NHS England Social Prescribing team cannot provide any further technical support and you will need to contact the NHSmail team to resolve any other technical queries.

SPLWs are an integral part of the general practice team. PCNs should provide SPLWs with appropriate equipment and access to software to undertake their role, including access to NHS Mail. PCNs are also responsible for ensuring equipment and software is compliant with data-sharing and information governance requirements and able to provide SPLWs with access to remote working equipment and systems in the same way as other MDT members.

Guidance sets out how integrated care systems (ICSs) and their IT delivery partners should support practices with options for remote working and the Transformation Directorate has provided guidance on information governance during COVID-19.  PCNs should be liaising with their ICSs for equipment for SPLWs, and if unable to meet these requirements, they should escalate this to their regional head of digital technology.

A wide range of support for colleagues working in social prescribing is available including:

Webinars for social prescribing link workers are held fortnightly. Recordings of previous webinars are available on the Social prescribing FutureNHS collaboration platform. If you are not a member of the Social prescribing collaborative platform and network mailing list, please complete the new joiners sign up form. SPLWs also have access to peer support and online networks.

How can I access the SPLW eLearning modules?

The eLearning programme for SPLWs is hosted by the Health Education England (HEE) eLearning for healthcare website. You can access 12 modules here, at no charge: Link worker – online training modules.

To access and complete the modules, you will need to create an HEE eLearning for healthcare account.

If you have set up your account but cannot log in, you can try resetting your password, or you can access technical support from HEE in a variety of formats by accessing eLearning for healthcare support. Unfortunately, the NHS England Social Prescribing team cannot help you if you encounter technical issues signing up or accessing the modules – you will need to contact HEE eLearning for healthcare.

To know how social prescribing is being utilised across the country, we need SPLWs to record and code the activity that they undertake. This is a contractual requirement for PCNs. The SNOMED codes for activity are:

871731000000106 – Referral to social prescribing service

871711000000103 – Social prescribing declined

All SPLWs should have access to electronic and paper-based record systems of the PCN practices. Where this is not in place, you should manually record activity and ensure a member of the PCN with system access records the codes as soon as possible and within a week of the contact. You are also encouraged to use the ONS4 Wellbeing Scale, which consists of four questions. More information on outcome measurement is available in the Reference guide for primary care networks – technical annex.

Individual coaching is available for staff in clinical and non-clinical roles working in primary care and PCN’s and a host of other support resources will be available through you PCN.

The NHS England Looking after you too coaching is undertaken with a skilled and experienced coach who will work with you to discuss any area of your wellbeing that you would like to address. They will listen, ask questions, and support you to develop practical strategies to cope with your situation and stay well.

Other coaching offers include:

Looking after you too – coaching for NHS staff from ethnic minority backgrounds

Social prescribing schemes are commissioned differently across England. Many local authorities and regional VCSE sector organisations have developed directories of local social prescribing and community offers. You may wish to check if there is a directory of community offers in your area and contact the organisers to be added.

There is no standard set of qualifications required in advance to become an SPLW. SPLWs come from a range of backgrounds and might have worked in a range of settings including the NHS, local authorities, education, the voluntary sector or other health providers.

SPLW roles are advertised locally or on the NHS jobs website.  You can find an example job description in the Reference guide for primary care networks – technical annex.