There is a growing body of evidence that social prescribing can lead to a range of positive health and wellbing outcomes. Studies have pointed to improvements in quality of life and emotional wellbeing, mental and general wellbing, and levels of depression and anxiety.
For example, An evaluation of a social prescribing project in Bristol from the early 2010s highlighted improvements in anxiety levels and in feelings about general health and quality of life. And a study of a scheme in Rotherham (a liaison service helping people access support from more than 8 in 10 people referred to the scheme who were followed up 3 to 4 moths later, there were reductions in NHS use in terms of accident and emergency (A&E) attendance, outpatient appointments and inpatient admissions. Exploratory analysis of the scheme suggested that it could pay for itself over 18-24 months due to reduced NHS use.
More recent evaluations have pointed to similar opportunities. A community connector scheme in Bradford reported improvements in service users' health-related quality of life and social connectedness (among other measures). And a programme in Shropshire, evaluated between 2017 and 2019, found that people reported statistically significant improvements in measures of wellbing, patient activation and loneliness. At three-month follow up, It also found that GP consultations among participants were down 40 per cent compared to a control group
While experience-much of it positive-continues to accumulate about social prescribing, there remain weaknesses in the evidence base. Many studies scale are small scale, do not have a control group, focus on progress rather than outcomes, or relate to individual interventions rather than the social prescribing model. Much of the evidence available in qualitative and relies on self-reported outcomes.
Determining the cost, resource implications and cost-effectiveness of social prescribing is particularly difficult. Several studies highlight the importance of measuring the wider social value generated through social prescribing, for example through social prescribing, for example through reducing welfare benefit claims. Again, this be difficult to measure, and may require a longer-term approach. A recent study found that more than half of the outcomes social prescribing can deliver are not being routinely measured in evaluation frameworks.
Overall, the evidence available today offers good reason to think social prescribing can deliver benefits for some people. But as a number of recent meta-analyses and Public Heath England have concluded, Further work is needed to strengthen the evidence base and clarify expectations of what benefits can be delivered and for whom.