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The Government says its funding will support people’s health and wellbeing “following the Covid-19 pandemic”, but the money was actually committed last October.

Two people creating a pot on a potter's wheel
Social prescribing will help local communities access arts activities

Oleg Mityukhin on Pixabay

The Department for Health and Social Care has announced a £5m award to the National Academy for Social Prescribing (NASP) “to support people to stay connected and maintain their health and wellbeing following the Covid-19 pandemic”.

But the cash is not a new award, AP has discovered. It was announced, at the NASP launch in October 2019, long before the pandemic began.

No new funding has been awarded to help address the mental health crisis anticipated in the wake of coronavirus and the lockdown, but the £5m originally pledged has just been released, finally enabling NASP to establish an infrastructure for its work.

National roll-out

Frontline healthcare professionals use social prescribing to refer people to non-clinical voluntary and community sector organisations that could address their needs more effectively than medical interventions. Doctors are already required to implement social prescribing, and NHS England has set up a network of social prescribing link workers in healthcare settings across the country.

Working in partnership with Arts Council England, Natural England, Money and Pensions Service, NHS Charities Together and Sport England, NASP will be using this network to promote health and wellbeing at a national and local level.

In the autumn it will be launching regional development programmes to help local voluntary, community and social enterprise groups develop their work in communities across England. Seven regional partners will be appointed to deliver these programmes.

Funding and support

£1m has been earmarked for a new Social Prescribing Development Fund for local community groups and organisations to help them reach new audiences and geographical areas.

Arts Council England will be administering the NASP funding for arts projects and has pledged a further £250K over the next two years to provide partnership funding for local arts and cultural organisations.

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The Southbank Centre will be the official home of NASP, which was scheduled to move into its offices in March.

NASP supported the Southbank Centre on its lockdown initiative, Art by Post, which involved sending free creative activity booklets to people living with dementia and other chronic health conditions.

The pilot scheme saw the Southbank Centre connect with its local communities around Lambeth and Southwark, and partner with agencies including AgeUK Lambeth and Coin Street Community Builders.

The UK-wide roll-out of the programme involved social prescribing link workers identifying people who would benefit from the packs, which are based on Southbank Centre’s art collection and artistic programme.

The role of broker

Although the potential for social prescribing to reduce the burden on NHS workers and budgets is increasingly recognised, not everyone is happy about the role of the new Academy.

An online poll by NHS Networks asked “do we need a £5m national academy of social prescribing?”. 62% of respondents said: “social prescribing is about local communities not more top-down initiatives”. Another 26% described it as “a waste of money”.

But James Sanderson, Director of Personalised Care for NHS England and NHS Improvement who is leading the Academy, is adamant that this framework will speed up the widespread adoption of social prescribing.

He told AP: "The NHS never used to acknowledge the benefits of social interventions in health and wellbeing, so it's very important now to raise the profile of this work and weave it permanently into the fabric of the NHS.

“NASP is aiming to broker strong connections between the NHS – which is more familiar with large-scale health interventions – and smaller, local, non-medical environments. It will be bringing together currently fragmented social prescribing activities and creating new funding streams for this work.”

Sanderson has a background in the arts, having trained as a dancer and worked in Theatre in Education. He also sees important potential for the arts. “Social prescribing will bring about an improvement in health and wellbeing, but it will also generate new audiences for the arts and open up opportunities for arts organisations to reach further and deeper into their local communities.”

Liz Hill