More and more it seems that councils are going to have to turn to the voluntary sector in their efforts to intervene early so that families are strengthened before they reach crisis point.

As many as 1,000 Sure Start centres across the country have closed since 2009 – twice as many as the government has reported – according to a major analysis published by the Sutton Trust only last year. This is one example of the effect of budget cuts being meted out across the UK, putting services at risk and leaving vulnerable families (parents and children) with nowhere to turn for support.

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More and more it seems that councils are going to have to turn to the voluntary sector in their efforts to intervene early so that families are strengthened before they reach crisis point. With this in mind, could social prescribing be the way forward?

Also known as “community referrals”, social prescribing is a means of enabling primary care services (GPs, community pharmacies or dental, and optometry services etc.) to refer patients with social, emotional or practical needs to a range of non-clinical services, often provided by the local voluntary sector. Quite simply, it involves putting people in contact with services that can provide help and advice.

In Professor Sir Michael Marmot’s 2010 review, Fair Society, Healthy Lives, it was pointed out that the majority of health outcomes are attributable to socioeconomic factors. In fact, it is estimated that about a fifth of visits to GPs are for a social problem rather than medical one. Thus, primary care services are perfectly positioned to identify vulnerable mums, dads, carers and children, and refer families accordingly.

Social prescription schemes that have been rolled out in the UK typically have a link worker or navigator who GPs refer patients on to and who organise the social prescription, but there are examples of doctors referring patients directly on to an activity. Commonly, prescriptions are for a set length of time (between eight or 12 weeks) with a structured follow-up once that is complete. There are, however, examples of schemes that have more open-ended prescriptions and in many cases guests end up keeping up their new activity once the prescription is complete.

In a recent social prescription model trialled in London by Family Action, individuals interviewed felt that ‘there was an urgent and immediate need to find new and innovative ways of reducing unnecessary pressure on the secondary care sector.’ An evaluation of the Secondary Care Pilot in Hackney documented referral and systems challenges but also noted “the wellbeing value” as being far greater than the assigned cost of delivery.

There is good evidence that getting people involved in community life, keeping them active and improving social connections – all of which are hallmarks of social prescribing – is good for both health and wellbeing.

Kids Matter is a programme that would hugely benefit from a social prescription model. Our aim is to reach vulnerable families before they are at crisis point; intervening early with our evidence-based parenting programme, by equipping parents and carers with the competence and confidence to strengthen their family relationships.

In October 2018, the Local Government Association reported that main government grant funding for local services will be cut by a further £1.3 billion (36 per cent) in 2019/20. We are deeply concerned that many hard-to-reach families will simply fall through the gap because services no longer have the capacity to intervene.

If you’d like to find out more about Kids Matter and how we could help you build relationships in your community, please contact us at – we’d love to continue the conversation!

For more information on the Secondary Care Pilot in Hackney, read Our Social Prescribing Evaluation, and for case studies as well as a clear “how to” for social prescribing, read Just what the doctor ordered: Social prescribing for local authorities.


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