Primary care networks will be supported by 1,000 social prescribing workers by April 2021, under plans due to be approved by NHS England this week.
The plans for personalised care provision will see each network have access to a social prescriber link worker, whose salary will be fully funded by NHS England.
The workers are being recruited to help people live healthier lives and combat anxiety, loneliness and depression. They will spend more time with patients to support them to find suitable activities that are a better alternative to medication, NHS England has said.
The ‘Universal Personalised Care’ blueprint is part of the NHS long term plan, which confirmed the government’s commitment to rolling out primary care networks.
Under the long term plan, all individual GP practices in a local area will have to enter into a network contract, typically covering between 30,000 and 50,000 patients.
The plans for universal personalised care are also designed to free up GPs to support patients with more acute health needs and by 2023-24, social prescribers are expected to handle around 900,000 patient appointments a year, NHS England has said.
Dr Nikita Kanani, NHS England’s acting medical director of primary care, said recruiting social prescribers will be a ‘priority target’ of the personalised care plan.
She added: ‘We will be recruiting a substantial number of people to support general practitioners over the next five years, to help ease the workload and pressures that we know general practice is under. But we see the network of social prescribers as a fundamental change to the way primary care operates and vital to the future.’
Dr Richard Vautrey, BMA GP committee chair, said it was vital, ‘now more than ever’, that patients are able to see the right health professional within a reasonable timeframe.
He added: ‘The BMA has long-backed social prescribers supporting the general practice team, and this commitment to roll them out across the country is very welcome.’