Social prescribing should be a part of standard care: RACGP

Matt Woodley

4/09/2020 5:13:57 PM

The college and other medical organisations have urged the Government to include social prescribing in its 10-Year Primary Health Care Plan.

Graphic representing social prescribing.
Most Australian doctors already undertake some form of social prescribing.

The call for more social prescribing, which involves the referral of patients to non-medical activities to supplement conventional care, comes after successful trials in Canada and Singapore, as well as its widespread introduction in the UK.
Previous research has shown most Australian doctors already undertake some form of social prescribing, and now the RACGP, Consumers Health Forum (CHF) and Mental Health Australia would like to see it officially included in the Federal Government’s 10-Year Primary Health Care Plan.
‘What is needed to make social prescribing work is an integrated approach where for example, the general practice can refer patients to appropriate support workers who can guide and encourage patients to more effectively self-manage their health,’ CHF Chief Executive Leanne Wells said.
‘To maximise the benefits we also need to recognise social prescribing as a regular part of healthcare, create policy and local systems to support it, and fund it accordingly.’
Social prescribing offers a system of support and guidance for people struggling with chronic conditions to connect with their community, counter loneliness, depression and anxiety and improve their overall health outcomes, which RACGP Expert Committee – Quality Care (REC–QC) Chair Professor Mark Morgan says is more important than ever.
‘The COVID-19 pandemic is presenting many challenges for primary care, particularly for patients with chronic illness and mental health issues,’ he said.
‘In the months and years ahead when the full impact of this pandemic becomes clear, including the restrictions placed on social interaction and activities, we must consider all options on how to improve health outcomes.
‘Social prescribing offers an innovative solution for patients [who have] a variety of health concerns.’ 
Mental Health Australia CEO Dr Leanne Beagley believes social prescribing options should be available to all patients, especially given the increased need for mental health services.
‘A prescription to improve one’s health should be much more than a piece of paper you take to a pharmacist,’ Dr Beagley said.
‘With the COVID-19 pandemic fast-tracking new ways of thinking and innovation in healthcare, there has never been a more opportune time to improve and increase the availability and understanding of social prescribing.
‘Organised and systemic social prescribing referral options for not only GPs, but other health professionals, has the ability to provide truly person-centered and person-led care, especially if it is backed up with the right workforce in the right places to make it work.’
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