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What is Social Prescribing and can I help?

I’ve had 30 amazing years in nursing and came off the register last month to pursue my Pilates career full time. In those years I’ve experienced a wide and varied range of health care interventions and initiatives as you can imagine, and Social Prescribing stands out for me as the most inclusive, cost effective, achievable and sensible.

I think we’d all agree that the NHS is the most awesome institution BUT it’s designed in a very paternalistic way, and as a result we’ve very comfortably adopted the ‘patient role’, handing over our health to third parties! Consequently the NHS can’t physically cope with the increasing demands put on it, and we risk becoming unwell or our condition worsening by not doing things to help ourselves.

Up to 20% of people who use a GP appointment do so for purely social reasons, and my GP tells me that he’s frequently frustrated with his inability to help patients, when it’s clear to him that they need another person to help rather than a tablet.

So, what is it?

There are many definitions of Social Prescribing so I’ve chosen one which I feel explains it the best for the regular (wo)man on the street –

“Social prescribing is a means of enabling GPs and other frontline healthcare professionals to refer people to ‘services’ in their community instead of offering only medicalised solutions….. ” – NHS England

So this approach can encourage us, empower us and give us the means to take pro-active measures to keep ourselves fit, well and happy. Just imagine how much better our lives and our communities would feel if ‘we’ the people in it, were given a prescription for cooking lessons instead of sustained increases in insulin, or for those of us in social isolation to be issued with Pilates lessons instead of antidepressants. 

And given that so many of us experience social and mild to moderate mental type issues such as anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, social isolation, housing and employment issues etc not remedied with medication or an investigation, it’s a welcome and refreshing strategy.

You may also be surprised to know, as I was, that it’s actually been going since the 1990’s starting in Bromley–by-Bow by a forward thinking GP called Sam Evrington – with 1 in 5 GPs regularly referring patients to it. And not only is it happening all over this country, but versions of it are also starting in Japan, the Netherlands, Portugal and Canada too.

How does it work?

There is no ONE model of Social Prescribing, schemes vary from place to place and grow organically so what is available in one area will be different to what’s available in a neighbouring area.

  • Signposting is where the patient will be given a list of activities when they visit their GP or healthcare professional, to mull over and get in touch with themselves if they like the look of anything – this approach tends not to work for those with social or mental health issues due to low confidence, demotivation and apathy.
  • Link workers are trained to help the patient work out what will be most helpful and appropriate for them, it’s much more supportive and in some cases the link worker may even go with the client. This is the preferred model which is being encouraged nationally.
  • Activities range from – being offered freely in perpetuity, for a limited period of time, are subsidised by local grants and awards or paid for in full from the outset. Anecdotal results show that may people continue paying for their activity once the free period ends.
  • Contacting your local surgery is the best way to get the ball rolling
  • The usual types of activities commonly include befriending, volunteering, gardening and walking groups but ultimately the more varied and diverse the activities the more needs will be met, and I think you’d agree that Pilates would be a perfect addition. An interesting fact is that 40 per cent of GPs said (via the July 2017 GP Online Survey) that they would refer patients if they had more information about available services.

Pilates and Social Prescribing

Pilates is an incredible mind and body approach to living and if you’re a teacher like me you practice it, you feel it and you share it.


  • mindful
  • non competitive
  • adaptable
  • as sociable or individual as you want it to be
  • informing
  • empowering………

the list goes on, and as a result it’s perfect for the type of client who would classically be using Social Prescribing to support them. In addition for us as teachers it can combine business and altruism in a perfect package, so please consider that……

“Everyone is the architect of their own happiness” – Joseph Pilates

………. it’s just that some people need a little help to get there!



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