Patients with long-term health problems are set to receive support from a new independent National Academy for Social Prescribing, established to enable healthcare professionals to utilise arts, cultural and leisure activities as a way to treat people.

Only 60% of the nation’s Clinical Commissioning Groups currently use social prescribing for patients with anxiety, mental health problems and dementia. This is despite evidence that individuals treated by this method report feeling less isolated, attending 47% fewer hospital appointments and visiting A&E 38% less. Implementing this approach will, it is hoped, ease the pressure on the health service and lead to less people feeling isolated in the community.

Arts Council England will collaborate with national bodies such as Sport England and other voluntary sector partners to help drive forward the scheme.

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What will the National Academy do?

Goals outlined by the National Academy for Social Prescribing will include:

  • Standardising the quality and range of social prescribing available to patients across the country
  • Championing the benefits of social prescribing by building and promoting the evidence base
  • Developing and sharing best practice, as well as looking at new models and sources for funding
  • Bringing together all partners from health, housing and local government with arts, culture and sporting organisations to maximise role of social prescribing
  • Focusing on developing training and accreditation across sectors

“It’s about all of us in health, arts, culture, sport, communities coming together around one simple principle: that prevention is better than cure,” explained health secretary Matt Hancock.

The most recent Long Term Plan outlined by the NHS has committed to at least 900,000 people receiving social prescribing within five years, with 1,000 new social prescribing link workers set to be in place by 2020/21.

The Academy has received £5 million of government funding and will be led by Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, the outgoing Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners.

As details of the Academy were revealed, Stoke-Lampard said: “social prescribing has always been so close to my heart as a practicing GP. It’s what good GPs have always done in terms of getting the best help and support for our patients beyond the medicines we also provide them with.

“I’m looking forward to starting work with colleagues from so many sectors to bring social prescribing into the mainstream, to train and educate social prescribers of the future and to establish a great evidence base and raise the profile of this fantastic initiative.”

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