Social prescribing and Innovate to Save

In the first of a series of blogs looking at the four thematic areas of interest for Innovate to Save, Ceri Jones, Senior Research Fellow at Y Lab, takes a look at the challenges and opportunities surrounding social prescribing in Wales.

Healthcare in Wales

Demand for healthcare is increasing, compounded by an aging population, increased prevalence of chronic health conditions and increased cost pressures.

The NHS in Wales faces similar challenges with almost half (48 per cent) of Welsh government’s budget spent on health and social care. Wales has the highest rates of long-term limiting illness in the UK and the number of people aged 65 and over is projected to increase by 50 per cent by 2037.

Primary care is also in crisis, with up to a third of GP’s in Wales wanting to leave the profession. In order to make health and social services more equitable there has been a move to a more social model of health with a patient centred approach, underpinned by legislation (the Social Services and Wellbeing Act, 2014 and the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act, 2015).

What is social prescribing?

While there is no single agreed definition of what constitutes social prescribing, in general it’s a process for healthcare professionals to connect people with non-medical community interventions which enable them to become confident in managing their conditions. These could be for arts and creative activities, social groups, physical activity, education and learning new skills, self-help, volunteering and befriending as well as support with welfare advice.

The most common type of referral mechanism is through a link worker, responsible for linking patients with relevant services. The pivotal role of the link worker has been recognised in Scotland through the development of the National Links Worker programme, aimed at building the capacity of primary care to help patients access the community interventions they need.

The evidence

While more robust, systematic evidence is needed, a recent review found social prescribing has been shown to improve self-esteem, sense of control and empowerment, wellbeing, reduce anxiety and depression and a reliance on primary and secondary care.

There are further economic benefits, Nesta’s People Powered Health programme suggests the cost of managing patients with long-term conditions could be reduced by up to 20 per cent and the Rotherham social prescribing pilot estimates over five years a return of investment (ROI) of £3.38 for every £1 invested.

Using a social return on investment (SROI) evaluation, the Well Springs Health Living programme demonstrated that for every £1 invested £2.90 of social value is created.

It has been suggested that social prescribing could lessen the pressure on GP’s and the Welsh Government are currently developing a model for social prescribing in Wales.

There have been a number of social prescribing pilots in England but less so in Wales, this is changing, with a recent social prescribing scheme in Torfaen.

Given the clear benefits both in terms of empowering patients to manage their own conditions, and engaging with the community, supporting a more social model of health and the potential savings for health and social care, we are keen to see applications that relate to social prescribing for the Innovate to Save programme.

For further information or to discuss a social prescribing project, please contact [email protected]


Dr Ceri Jones

Dr Ceri Jones is an Occupational Psychologist, a Senior Research Fellow at Y Lab - the Public Services Innovation Lab for Wales at Cardiff University - and an NIHR Knowledge Mobilisati…