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Social prescribing not a ‘quick fix’ for health inequalities, study claims

By Jess Hacker
21 September 2021

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Implementing social prescribing and link workers in primary care is not likely to succeed as a ‘quick fix’ for tackling health disparities in deprived areas, a study has claimed after finding limited evidence for short-term success in Scotland.

Social prescribing – which links primary care patients with community resources – has been promoted by UK governments as a means for reducing health inequalities.

In a new study, published in the BJGP (20 September), researchers looked to evaluate the success of the ‘Deep End’ Links Worker Programme, currently being tested in general practices serving deprived populations in Glasgow.

However, across seven of the top 100 most deprived practices in Scotland, the study authors found that only three had fully integrated link workers into routine practice within two years.

The authors said the limited success observed indicated the programme in Glasgow ‘is unlikely to be a “quick fix” for mitigating health inequalities in deprived areas’.

They added that health inequalities persist because of ‘structural issues relating to the wider social determinants’ of health.

The study authors identified leadership and team relationships as key factors for success. However, they warned that ‘practices that can ensure these attributes may be in the minority’.

This study is the latest published by the BJGP to assess how general practice functions in areas of high deprivation.

Last month, researchers found most deprived areas in England had almost one and a half fewer FTE GPs (1.41) per 10,000 patients than the least derived areas.

This comes in light of a pandemic which has repeatedly been shown to have produced worse outcomes based on level of deprivation and less-advantaged socio-economic status.

Elsewhere, reports have found that life expectancy had stalled for the first time in over a century in some areas, and for the poorest 10% of women it had begun to decline.

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