Not surprisingly, funding for organisations providing services was the major worry expressed in research by National Voices for NHS England, which heard from more than 300 people.
Those offering ‘hard-edged’ services, such as advice or facilitated therapeutic interventions, said extra demand meant extra cost, while there were also concerns that voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) infrastructure at local levels needed better funding too, as it plays a key role in sharing information to enable effective social prescribing.
As social prescribing identifies unmet needs and drives new demand to the VCSE sector, funding needs to flow to meet this demandNational Voices
The study said: ‘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.’
Researchers also found confusion about measuring the effectiveness of programmes to capture social and clinical outcomes, and concerns about how link workers are being recruited.
More positively, the study noted that despite such challenges, there are ‘undeniably’ thousands of people receiving help from the new links social prescribing has fostered between the NHS and the VCSE.
The study recommends that NHS England revises guidance to encourage the recruitment of link workers from the VCSE sector who are likely to have strong local relationships, making the roll-out of social prescribing smoother.
It also advocates that care system leaders look at ways social prescribing schemes can play a role in Covid-19 recovery.
The Executive Summary of the report can be read here