Social Prescribing Networks

Personal solutions to improve wellbeing.

An older man and younger man chat in a village shop
  • Involves: individuals, health professionals, community resources
  • Cost: £

Social prescribing (or community referral) enables GPs, nurses and other primary care professionals to refer people to a range of local, non-clinical services. It and similar approaches have been used in the NHS for many years. More than 100 schemes are currently running in the UK, (a quarter in London); others are in Ireland.

Social prescribing schemes involve a variety of activities, usually provided by voluntary and community sector organisations. Examples include volunteering, arts activities, group learning, gardening, befriending, cookery, healthy eating advice and a range of sports.

It is in line with NHS policy:

  • the NHS Five Year Forward View (2014) encourages a focus on prevention and wellbeing, patient-centred care, and better integration of services
  • it also highlights the role of the third sector in delivering services that promote wellbeing
  • the General Practice Forward View (2016) emphasises the role of voluntary sector organisations – including through social prescribing specifically – to help reduce pressure on GP services.
Community Gardening - planting lettuce

How it works

  • Social prescribing supports people with a wide range of social, emotional or practical needs.
  • Many schemes focus on improving mental health and physical well-being, and benefit people with mild or long-term mental health problems, vulnerable groups, people who are socially isolated, and those who frequently attend either primary or secondary health care.
  • There are many different models for social prescribing, but most involve a link worker or navigator who works with people to access local sources of support.
  • It is difficult to determine the cost, resource implications and cost effectiveness of social prescribing. An economic analysis of a scheme in Rotherham, suggested that it could pay for itself over 18–24 months in terms of reduced NHS use.

Social Prescribing offers a way for healthcare providers to help lonely and socially isolated patients by referring them into community-based services that can help them to manage their own wellbeing. Brightlife runs three schemes for social prescribing in Cheshire West and Chester, on a village, town and city scale.

We manage the transition between formal healthcare and community services in these areas, helping older people to discover what they can do and what they enjoy, and allowing them to rebuild their own social support networks.


Brightlife, Cheshire


Social Prescribing for Health and Wellness is about supporting the health and wellbeing of people, by using community-based activities and supports, such as exercise, art, reading or gardening. There is also an opportunity to attend self-help sessions such as Stress Control.


Alive2Thrive, Ireland