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Can social prescribing provide the missing link?

  • Jane South (a1), Tracy J. Higgins (a2), James Woodall (a1) and Simon M. White (a2)



The voluntary sector has long been recognised as making an important contribution to individual and community health. In the UK, however, the links between primary health care services and the voluntary and community sector are often underdeveloped. Social prescribing is an innovative approach, which aims to promote the use of the voluntary sector within primary health care. Social prescribing involves the creation of referral pathways that allow primary health care patients with non-clinical needs to be directed to local voluntary services and community groups. Such schemes typically use community development workers with local knowledge who are linked to primary health care settings. Social prescribing therefore has the potential to assist individual patients presenting with social needs to access health resources and social support outside of the National Health Service.


The aim of this paper is to explore the concept of social prescribing and discuss its value as a public health initiative embedded within general practice.


The rationale for social prescribing and existing evidence are briefly reviewed. The paper draws on a case study of a pilot social prescribing scheme based in general practice. Data collected during the development, implementation and evaluation of the scheme are used to illustrate the opportunities and limitations for development in UK primary health care.


The potential for social prescribing to provide a mediating mechanism between different sectors and address social need is discussed. The paper argues that social prescribing can successfully extend the boundaries of traditional general practice through bridging the gap between primary health care and the voluntary sector. The potential for wider health gain is critically examined. The paper concludes that social prescribing not only provides a means to alternative support but also acts as a mechanism to strengthen community–professional partnerships. More research is needed on the benefits to patients and professionals.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to: Jane South, Centre for Health Promotion Research, Queen Square House, G08, Leeds Metropolitan University, Leeds LS1 3HE, UK. Email:


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Can social prescribing provide the missing link?

  • Jane South (a1), Tracy J. Higgins (a2), James Woodall (a1) and Simon M. White (a2)


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