Better funding needed for social prescribing, report finds

A report from National Voices says NHS providers must ensure funding goes to voluntary sector organisations engaged in the activity

Gardening can be part of social prescribing (Photograph: Binyamin Mellish via Pexels)
Gardening can be part of social prescribing (Photograph: Binyamin Mellish via Pexels)

More funding across the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector is needed if it is to help meet increased demand for social prescribing, according to a new report.

The scheme works by referring NHS patients to local voluntary and community services, to improve their quality of life, health and wellbeing and reduce the likelihood that they might need to access NHS services in future.

This could include participation in activities such as art classes, gardening, cooking or sport.

Commissioned by NHS England, new research by National Voices, a coalition of health and social care charities, heard from more than 300 people in relation to the NHS rollout of social prescribing between December and June.

The report, Rolling Out Social Prescribing: Understanding the experience of the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector, found numerous examples of more effective health and care support for people, and strong support from primary care networks. 

The report calls for stronger relationships between VCSE organisations and primary care teams, a greater focus on tackling health inequalities, and the need to provide increased funding to VCSE organisations experiencing greater demand for their services.

Respondents to the research also highlighted the importance of adequate funding for VCSE organisations, “many of which have long been underfunded”. 

It says guidance from NHS England recognises the importance of funding for the VCSE sector, “but lacks an explicit call for local NHS bodies to ensure funding flows to providers of support”. 

It says: “It is not the sole responsibility of the NHS to ensure there is functioning social infrastructure in communities, but there was consensus that, as social prescribing identifies unmet needs and drives new demand to the VCSE sector, funding needs to flow to meet this demand.

“The VCSE sector, through social prescribing, has the potential to deliver outcomes across a range of core NHS priorities. 

“There now needs to be a clear strategy to ensure that funding is channelled from across the NHS to support the VCSE capacity needed to fulfil this potential.

Charlotte Augst, chief executive of National Voices, said: “Of course, as we spoke to our colleagues working in communities we heard about things we need to put right – not least the crucial issue of funding for our sector, which simply cannot continue to meet growing demand without sustainable resourcing.

“In these times of immense pressure, we need more than ever the kind of holistic, person-centred support that enables people to cope with waits, with service changes, and with the impact Covid-19 has had on their lives and communities.”

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