Nearly one million people will be referred for singing or art activities by doctors under a £5 million plan to roll out social prescribing across the UK.
Health secretary Matt Hancock has launched a Social Prescribing Academy to help healthcare professionals prescribe arts, sport and leisure activities on the NHS as easily as they do medical care.
It is hoped that an increase in social prescribing will help tackle loneliness, mental health issues and other long-term conditions.
The announcement comes as social prescription schemes rise in popularity in the UK. The NHS has committed to referring at least 900,000 people to social prescribing within five years, and to put 1,000 ‘link workers’ dedicated to social prescribing in GP surgeries by 2020/21.
Hancock, a former culture secretary, described social prescribing as a “huge part” of a guiding principle that “prevention is better than the cure”.
“There are thousands of people up and down the country right now who are already benefitting from activities such as reading circles, choirs and walking football.
“The academy will act as a catalyst to bring together the excellent work already being done across the NHS and beyond, building on our NHS Long Term Plan’s ambition to get 2.5 million more people benefitting from personalised care within the next five years,” Hancock said.
First mooted by Hancock last year, the academy will ensure the range and quality of prescribing available to patients is standardised across the country, and will work to build up the evidence base around its benefits.
GPs and other primary care professionals will be able to receive training around alternative methods of care, and the academy will provide a place to partners from across sectors, including the arts, to “maximise the role of social prescribing”.
The academy will be led by Helen Stokes-Lampard, the ongoing chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners.
Arts Council England is contributing £125,000 per year for the first two years, as a partner of the project.
Its chief executive Darren Henley said: “Arts and cultural engagement, and being creative more generally, can positively impact your well-being – whether it’s the enjoyment of seeing a performance, the confidence that comes from singing or dancing, or as an antidote to isolation by connecting with others.
“There’s also a strong and ever-growing body of evidence showing the significant benefits that arts-based activity can have on specific health conditions; both mental and physical.”