New Specific Interests social prescribing group

Morgan Liotta

2/03/2022 3:22:09 PM

Social prescribing is gaining momentum, and the RACGP is hoping to better support GPs in integrating the model into their practice.

A group of people sitting on the grass talking.
The college’s new Specific Interests group aims to address the need for a national social prescribing scheme.

With mental health presentations continuing to rank number one in general practice, it is no surprise that experiences of loneliness and social isolation are also becoming increasingly common.
But amid the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, social prescribing has continued to emerge as a viable and worthwhile healthcare model, with a growing number of GPs integrating it into their practice.
And the benefits have already been widely identified; in addition to helping to tackle depression and anxiety, social prescribing has also been linked to preventing dementia later in life.
As a result, according to the RACGP, there is now a ‘clear need’ for a national social prescribing scheme to employ innovative local solutions to tackle the issue of social isolation, loneliness and depression.
To help take the next step, the college has launched a new Specific Interests group for social prescribing, with Dr James Ibrahim appointed the inaugural Chair.
‘I am incredibly excited about this new group because it has already attracted a wide range of very passionate, high-calibre change-leading GPs from around Australia,’ he told newsGP.
‘What is unique about this group is that it is likely to impact the future of our practice, it is very forward looking.
‘There is no current best-practice model for the Australian health system. Rather, exemplary models from other countries that do not address the unique barriers to the uptake of social prescribing in the Australian primary care landscape.’
The RACGP recently called for the implementation and funding of a national social prescribing scheme in the 2021 Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, and made recommendations for its official inclusion in the Federal Government’s 10-Year Primary Health Care Plan.
The implementation is backed by bodies such as the Consumers Health Forum, Mental Health Australia, as well as the recently released National Preventive Health Strategy 2021−30, which calls for enhanced referral pathways to community services to be embedded in the healthcare system at a local level with a focus on self-care support, such as social prescribing.
Recognising that the GP’s role as a trusted healthcare provider makes them ideally placed to offer individually tailored social prescriptions, Dr Ibrahim said there is no better time to embrace social prescribing as communities emerge out of the pandemic.
‘Coming out of lockdowns and social distancing, the interconnections between activity levels, social connectivity, mental health and physical wellbeing have never been so evident to us,’ he said.
‘Social prescribing can be one of the antidotes, delivered by GPs to ameliorate some of the negative impacts of COVID-19.
‘GPs are well placed to be a beacon, a lighthouse to the opportunities in the local community, providing personally relevant and individually tailored social prescriptions.’
By supporting GPs, the new Specific Interests group hopes to increase the likelihood of successful implementation of social prescribing in general practice.
‘It is essential that social prescribing is done in a manner that is informed by the RACGP and its members … that is considerate of GP workflow,’ Dr Ibrahim said.
‘Internationally, social prescribing is well established with formalised referral pathways, technologically integrated with GP software and has link worker workforces collaborating with GPs.
‘This group will address how such a practice could be established successfully given the idiosyncrasies of Australian general practice.’
The group aims to support GPs by:

  • influencing general practice education and providing educational support about social prescribing
  • sharing and learning about local and international initiatives
  • promoting successful general practice models to decision makers
  • working as a reference group both within, and on behalf of, the RACGP in matters relating to social prescribing
  • assisting GPs with how to implement and seek funding for social prescribing initiatives they may wish to run in their practices.
Dr Ibrahim encourages GPs to join the new Specific Interests group.
‘Social prescribing is a contemporary and emerging issue that over the next few years will develop its foothold in Australian primary care,’ he said.
‘Any GP passionate about social prescribing, service navigation and addressing the social determinants of health that would like to be part of something special – the inception of something that is really going to influence Australian primary care going forward – they would be most welcome to join.’
Members can join RACGP Specific Interests Social Prescribing via the RACGP website.
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