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Social prescribing could hold the key to Covid-19 recovery

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The Post-Covid-19 Futures Commission, established by the Royal Society of Edinburgh, has published a report in partnership with Support in Mind Scotland

Social prescribing can play a vital role in helping to improve Scotland's post-pandemic mental health, a new report has recommended.

The Post-Covid-19 Futures Commission, established by the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE), has published a report in partnership with Support in Mind Scotland (SiMS), calling for decision-makers in Scotland to adopt a social prescribing approach to healthcare as a priority.

The report states that non-medical approaches could alleviate pressure on the NHS and other public services in the wake of Covid, if community partners are adequately resourced to deliver tailored support across Scotland.

Currently in Scotland, between 25% and 50% of GP appointments focus on non-medical issues, such as social isolation, financial struggles, and bereavement. Social prescribing, also known as community referral, allows GPs, nurses and other healthcare workers to signpost patients to support outside of health services, through community organisations, local support groups and holistic hubs.

One study in the report found that 78% of GPs reported prescribing antidepressants, despite believing that an alternative treatment would be more appropriate, but other approaches were either not available or had long waiting lists. 

The report highlights the intense pressure on health services due to delayed medical procedures and appointments during Covid-19, as well as growing mental health issues fuelled by the pandemic and urges leaders to invest in social prescribing.

A 2019 enquiry by the Scottish Parliament’s Health and Sport Committee found that social prescribing had considerable potential for preventing long-term conditions and dependence on pharmaceutical prescriptions. Despite this study, the approach has not been rolled out nationally due to barriers such as funding and awareness.

Caroline Gardner FRSE, chair of the RSE’s post-Covid-commission inclusive public service working group, said: “Social prescribing puts people at the centre of their own care. For social prescribing to become more than the sum of its parts, it needs to be embedded systematically across the whole of Scotland, matched with real leadership and resources. The report’s recommendations around awareness-raising, supporting a range of tailored options, resourcing the whole ‘system’, with improvements in accessibility and inclusion; must be underpinned by mechanisms for delivery. This cannot be a report that is allowed to sit on a shelf. The time is right for it to be enacted with and for the people of Scotland, and the RSE's post-Covid commission will be pressing for change.”

Frances Simpson, chief executive of Support in Mind Scotland, said: “Research conducted with those with lived experience of poor mental health clearly shows that they looked for support in their communities in a non-clinical, low-level setting, pre-crisis. Steps have been taken towards social prescribing being used across Scotland, but this report clearly states that there is much more to be done.

“There are many more opportunities for health professionals to work in partnership with individuals, communities, businesses and the charity sector to support people through social prescribing. Support in Mind Scotland is keen to use its links with partners to learn from this report and build a diverse network of social prescribing led by the needs of individuals in different areas of Scotland.” 



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