Social prescribing is an approach that connects people with social, emotional or practical needs to activities, groups and services in their community to improve their health and wellbeing. It is being used more and more in healthcare settings, but how can it be better utilised in the criminal justice system? This blog looks at the evidence for social prescribing, the approach being taken to support its growth across prisons and probation, and how you can get involved.
What is social prescribing?
Social prescribing is a means of enabling health professionals to refer people to a range of local, non-clinical services – for example, arts activities, gardening, cookery, healthy eating advice, sports, volunteering – to support their health and wellbeing.
There are different models; from signposting services to holistic approaches involving referrals and active support, but most involve a key member of staff who makes those connections and may be referred to as a link worker, community connector, wellbeing advisor, community navigator, or health advisor depending on local preference. Link workers support people to unpick complex issues affecting their wellbeing. Link workers know, or have the means to find out, the range of support and engagement opportunities available in their local area and are suitably placed to connect people to them.
Support must be centred around the needs and aspirations of the individual, and allow them time to discuss their problems, explore what is important to them and identify any issues and challenges they face. The link worker can then identify the services and activities that they need to manage their own health more effectively and meet their own personal goals.
Social prescribing and similar approaches have been practised in the NHS since the 1990s. The NHS Long-Term Plan set a target that by 2023/24 every GP practice in England will have access to a social prescribing link worker and that 900,000 people will have been referred by then.
Does it work?
There is a growing body of evidence that social prescribing in the community can lead to a range of positive outcomes, including improvements in quality of life, emotional, mental and general wellbeing, and reduced levels of depression and anxiety.
Can it work in prisons?
The Public Health and Clinical Liaison team are looking at supporting the development and growth of social prescribing across HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) through access to evidence-based information and support.
All services need to be able to demonstrate their impact and value for money. HMPPS need to develop a more granular understanding of which approaches deliver value, for whom, and how. There is also a need for greater knowledge of the impact of different models; and how link workers can be effectively supported and embedded within a wider multidisciplinary team.
Early findings from a pilot study in prison have indicated a range of benefits from social prescribing and we hope to be able to share this in future. A project with people on probation based on social prescribing and desistance is underway, which will add to our knowledge regarding what is effective. The learning from these initiatives will inform wider HMPPS work on Future Regime Design, due to launch in 2025 and including more flexible activities that improve the “prisoner journey” and personal outcomes.
HMPPS are also working towards dialogue with clinical leads and hoping to engage with other stakeholders – including the voluntary sector. Through their work with Clinks, they know that voluntary organisations provide a wide range of services, including specialist work with and for people with protected characteristics. HMPPS are looking to make sure that they capture evidence of those activities and interventions that a social prescribing link worker could refer people to.
How can you get involved?
If you provide a non-clinical service, activity or intervention that supports people’s physical, mental or emotional health, please get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Clinks is collating this evidence which will then inform the work to build the evidence base for social prescribing in prisons and probation. It would be helpful if you could respond by Monday 31 July. Your assistance is very much appreciated.
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.@hibiscuscharity have launched a report - funded by Clinks - which explores the complex issues faced by Black, minoritised and migrant women in contact with the CJS and the resulting impacts on their mental health.
Read the report here: https://hibiscusinitiatives.org.uk/media/2023/06/rmc-mental-health-report-document.pdf