Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, outgoing chair of the RCGP, is to lead a new government-funded national academy supporting social prescribing projects.
Backed by £5m of government funding and developed in partnership with Sport England, Arts Council England and voluntary sector partners, the National Academy for Social Prescribing will promote prescribed activities like art, singing and gardening.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said his ambition is for every patient in the country to have access to social prescriptions on the NHS as readily as they do medical care.
It forms part of the NHS Long Term Plan’s aim to refer at least 900,000 people to social prescribing within five years. Overall the Long Term Plan hopes to give 2.5 million people access to social prescribing.
The academy will work to standardise the quality and range of social prescribing available to patients and develop and share best practice.
It will also focus on developing training and accreditation across the sectors involved, including health, housing, local government, arts, culture and sports.
The Department for Health and Social Care said it expects the academy to ‘ease the burden’ on the NHS, arguing that parts of the country that already use social prescribing have seen 47% fewer hospital appointments and 38% fewer A&E attendances from patients with certain long-term conditions.
Professor Stokes-Lampard said: ‘I’m thrilled to have been appointed as chair of this new academy. Social prescribing has always been so close to my heart as a practising 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.’
Mr Hancock added: ‘This academy is much more important than any one individual. It’s about all of us in health, arts, culture, sport, communities coming together around one simple principle: that prevention is better than cure.
‘Social prescribing is a huge part of this. There are thousands of people up and down the country right now who are already benefitting from activities like reading circles, choir groups and walking football.
‘The National Academy for Social Prescribing will act as a catalyst to bring together the excellent work already being done across the NHS and beyond, building on our NHS Long Term Plan’s ambition to get over 2.5m more people benefitting from personalised care within the next five years.’