Is ‘social prescribing’ the answer to boosting employee wellbeing?

By Claire Glynn | Head of Musculoskeletal Services
Instead of prescribing pills, health professionals are increasingly referring people into community groups to improve their health and wellbeing.

Employees expecting to be prescribed anti-inflammatories for back pain might be surprised to find themselves being sent to gardening club. But non-medical referrals to support in the community – known as ‘social prescribing’ – is growing in popularity.

The idea is that many health and wellbeing issues can be improved with social, rather than medical, interventions. Such as low mood due to spending too much time isolated from others, or back pain due to lack of movement. Making a ‘prescription’ to join a baking, gardening, walking, football or crafting volunteer group, is an effective alternative to pills.

Employers, senior politicians and the NHS are all embracing this approach with the launch of the College of Medicine’s Beyond Pills campaign. So here are six ways to introduce social prescribing to boost the health of your people and further your organisation’s ESG goals.

1. Think about what your people need

As with any workplace health and wellbeing initiative, the best place to start is by looking at what your people need. What health issues are causing them to go off sick or hindering their ability to perform at work? What underlying health issues are they prone to? Are they feeling fatigued, suffering from burnout or struggling with neck and back pain? Would they benefit from doing something relaxing and soulful, or becoming more active?

2. Identify appropriate community groups

Once you’ve established what your people need, consider what sort of activities they might want to engage with, bearing in mind where they’re based. Local councils will probably have a social prescribing page if you google this. If they aren’t offering much, consider supporting a local charity or setting up your own group. For example, a workplace walking group or inter-company football club. Or, if your workplace has a garden, perhaps an allotment club.

3. Get a medical professional onboard

Although social prescribing is becoming increasingly widespread, a medical professional is often still required to do the prescribing. For example, if there are any recognised medical health conditions being experienced by the individual, to make sure recommend activities don’t put them at risk. The medical professional can be an occupational health specialist or workplace GP, so make sure you have someone qualified on board to do the prescribing.

4. Refer employees who would benefit

Social prescribing is designed to support people sooner rather than later, before an initial problem, such as a back twinge or low mood, has time to spiral into something worse. So encourage social prescribing pathways at the first sign of ill health, instead of just waiting for people to become sick. You can also use social prescribing to help people stay in work, by getting managers to refer people who they think might benefit.

5. Share success stories

Capture testimonials from people who have been helped to recover. Include any data about positive outcome measures to demonstrate the effectiveness of the approach. Be this clinical data on improvement in symptoms or a patient reported outcome measures (PROM) survey.

Share these stories with other employees to inspire them to also come forward for support. Plus calculate any absence or cost savings, compared to waiting for an NHS GP referral or making a health insurance claim, to make the case for the approach to the business.

6. Be flexible

Make sure people stick to their social prescription by treating it like any other medical appointment and giving them time off to attend. Make it clear they’re expected to make time for this and not to schedule meetings or set deadlines that would prevent them from attending. This will help to avoid them being made to feel awkward about attending something that will help keep them healthy and in work, saving more time in the long run.
Social prescribing

Find out how to incorporate social prescribing into your health and wellbeing strategy with a one-to-one workshop.

One of our experienced social prescribing consultants will help you review the underlying reasons for sickness absence to create a social prescribing strategy and recommendations.

How can PAM Physio Solutions Help?

Workforce analytics

Help to identify the underlying reasons for MSK absence at your organisation and understand the risk factors associated with the demographic of your workforce.

Absence case management

Referral pathways for managers to flag up individuals affected by MSK issues, so they can have a clinical consultation and case-managed access to support to help them recover.

Social prescribing

Option to have individuals who would benefit from social prescribing connected with voluntary groups, based on their condition and personal interests and location

Physiotherapy information line (PhIL)

Provide employees with immediate telephone access to a musculoskeletal expert for advice on musculoskeletal injury management, to reduce injury time and risk of further injury.
Boost health and engagement with wellbeing tools developed by behaviour change experts, including a virtual gym, goal setting and habit tracking.

For more information about how we can support your people to stay in work or recover:


Call: 01925 989741

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