Hundreds of children with psychological problems are prescribed surfing, roller skating and gardening lessons by their doctor to improve their well-being.
As part of a trial, the NHS’s mental health services will fund activities, which also include sports clubs, music classes and youth clubs, for 600 11- to 18-year-olds in 10 parts of England lining up for care.
If the social prescribing scheme is successful in reducing anxiety, depression and loneliness, it could be rolled out nationwide to provide respite to those who are stuck in deprivation.
dr. Daisy Fancourt, a psychobiologist at University College London who is leading the trial with the NHS, said three in four young people see their mental health deteriorate while waiting for treatment.
“Social prescribing has the potential to support young people while they wait, by providing access to a range of creative and social activities that can boost their confidence, self-esteem and social support networks,” she said.
However, according to a study published last week, there is “little evidence” that the approach improves physical health or reduces reliance on GP services.
As part of a trial, the NHS’s mental health services will fund the activities, which also include sports clubs, music classes and youth clubs, for 600 11 to 18 year olds in 10 parts of England lining up for care
Is ‘social prescribing’ a waste of NHS money? Experts say there is ‘little evidence’ garden clubs, art classes and walking groups improve health
Garden clubs, art classes and walking groups have all been hailed as healthy alternatives to taking pills.
But there’s “little evidence” that social prescribing actually improves people’s health, according to a scientific review.
Researchers found no consistent evidence that the radical approach to treatment – now widely available on the NHS – really works.
The analysis of 6,500 people found little evidence that such activities improved social support, physical functioning or decreased use of primary health services such as GPs.
There was only ‘limited evidence’ that the schemes improved people’s perceptions of personal health or the quality of care received, according to scientists from the University of Dublin.
Much more robust research is needed before policymakers continue to push it as a treatment, they conclude.
One in six young people in England is said to have a mental illness.
But they face waiting times of up to three years for NHS care – such as appointments with psychologists, therapists and social workers – in parts of the country.
Dr Fancourt said: the guard: ‘Youth mental health is one of the biggest challenges for the NHS.
‘Currently, many young people who are referred to mental health care are faced with long waiting times, with more than three quarters experiencing a deterioration in their mental health.’
Social prescribing has ‘enormous potential’ and can ‘help address determinants of mental illness, reduce stigma and shame sometimes associated with mental health problems, and give young people choice and control over their care’.
Ten NHS mental health trusts will offer a ‘buddy’ officer to reach young people awaiting treatment and offer them a range of classes from which to choose.
dr. Fancourt and her team will check how many young people are taking the classes, as well as how practical and expensive the arrangement is.
Social prescribing was previously offered through a government funded program to young people in Luton, Sheffield and Brighton and Hove between 2018 and 2020.
Participants reported an improvement in their personal and mental well-being, especially among those who felt worst at the start of the trial, and a reduction in loneliness.
The trial reduced stigma on mental health and “filled a mental health gap” by providing near-instant access to emotional support, she added.
However, some had difficulties getting to and from classes and some were expensive.
The UCL study will be the largest trial of social prescribing in children to date.
GPs are increasingly relying on non-traditional ‘treatment’ as an alternative to drugs to treat people with mental health problems.
Professor Martin Marshall, the president of the Royal College of General Practitioners, has previously shared how he prescribed cooking classes to a patient so he could create healthier meals instead of relying on fast food.
However, a University of Dublin study published last week in the journal BMJ Open found that there is no consistent evidence that social prescribing works.
They examined eight studies, involving about 6,500 people, who participated in social prescribing activities for between one month and two years.
They found little evidence that the activities improved social support, physical functioning, or reduced use of primary health services, such as primary care physicians.
And there was only ‘limited evidence’ that the schemes boosted people’s perception of their health or the quality of the quality of care they received.
Much more robust research is needed before policymakers continue to push it as a treatment, they concluded.
Proponents of social prescribing argue that the approach could save the NHS money by benefiting people’s health – reducing GP visits and reliance on the health service.
However, the researchers cautioned that it “has the potential to wreak havoc by inundating link workers with inappropriate referrals and having little idea how to respond.”
Social prescribing is often measured by patient reports of their “well-being” rather than “hard” measures of clinical health — such as whether it reduces appointment requests and hospitalizations, she added.
However, NHS bosses say people are gaining more control over their health by empowering people to ‘take care of their own physical and mental health and reduce the demand for health and social care services’.
Social prescribing became an official health policy in October 2019 when the UK’s National Academy of Social Prescription was opened by the then Secretary of Health, Matt Hancock.
At the time, he said it could “help us fight overmedicalizing people” and save money.
The plan stated that 1,000 social prescribing workers would be in attendance by March 2021 and at least 900,000 patients would be referred to the scheme by March 2024.
People with one or more long-term conditions, with mental health problems, lonely or isolated and with complex social needs are the main targets of the scheme.
It sees them prescribed activities such as volunteering, group learning and healthy eating advice.
They may also be referred to local charities and support networks, employment offices, social care services, health services and other emergency services.