Social prescribing at general practices in Scotland should be made a priority say 19 health charities as they call for the Scottish Government to take urgent action on health inequality.
Movement for Health (MFH) – a coalition of charities that champions physical activity for people with long-term health conditions – made the appeal following the publication of a report by the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee.
The report, published last month, said there was a health inequality crisis in Scotland and called on policymakers to take proactive steps to address this.
One of its recommendations was to embed Community Link Workers (CLW) into all GP surgeries in Scotland.
This would enable patients to be referred to the link worker for support from community organisations and local support groups outside the NHS, helping to address health inequalities.
Dr Emma Lunan, chair of MFH, said health inequalities in Scotland had worsened because of the pandemic and cost of living crisis.
She said increased investment in social prescribing was needed to tackle it. But she warned that a one-size-fits-all approach would not work and said it was imperative to involve different voices at inception if any major difference was to be made.
‘Social prescribing has been recognised as a vital tool required post-pandemic to improve the mental and physical health of the country.
‘Investing in the process means we can cater and understand that different areas of Scotland have different needs and require different levels of support,’ said Dr Lunan.
Schemes already exist to offer social prescribing, which involves various activities typically provided by voluntary and community sector organisations. Examples include volunteering, art activities, group learning, gardening, befriending, cookery, healthy eating advice and sports.
But there is no overarching strategy to guide this.
Dr Lunan said social prescribing services would require leadership, collaboration with relevant industry experts and funding to become fit for purpose.
‘A bigger investment has to be put on social prescribing. If the committee’s findings confirm anything, it is that tackling health inequalities must be a major public health priority because lives literally depend on it.’