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What is Social Prescribing?

Social prescribing began as a community-led movement to address the challenges of social isolation, fear and loneliness often associated with a lack of community connection and a small or no support network.  These challenges often negatively affect overall health and wellbeing and can particularly impact older age groups, those with chronic health problems, people with mental health difficulties and psychosocial needs, carers, single parents, migrant and immigrant and minority ethnic groups. 


How it works:

Service users are referred to a Social Prescriber / Link Worker through whom they can learn about possibilities and design their personalised solutions (i.e., 'co-produce' their 'social prescription').  This empowers people with social, emotional or practical needs to find solutions that improve their health and wellbeing.  Social prescribing works holistically, using the many assets and supports already available within communities. 

When a person has lost the confidence to socialise or engage with services, social prescribing has a vital role in helping improve quality of life, health and wellbeing. 

Who can refer a service user to a Social Prescribing Service? 

A service user can be referred to a Social Prescribing Service by various healthcare professionals and community-based organisations.


Some common referral sources include:

  • Doctors can refer patients if they believe non-medical interventions would benefit their health and wellbeing.

  • Primary care team members, such as nurses and allied health professionals, may also make referrals to Social Prescribing Services.

  • Community health workers who work closely with individuals and families may refer them based on their needs and preferences.

  • Mental health professionals, including psychiatrists, psychologists, counsellors, and therapists, can refer individuals as part of their treatment plan.

  • Social Workers may refer clients to address social determinants of health and improve overall wellbeing.

  • Organisations involved in community development, social support, and advocacy may refer individuals to access a range of community-based activities and resources.

  • Healthcare professionals in hospitals and specialist services may refer patients to support their recovery and rehabilitation after treatment.

  • Self-referral if the individual knows about the service and believes they would benefit from participating in non-medical interventions.


Through this referral, the service user will meet with a Social Prescriber / Link Worker who will listen to and work with the service user to identify the needs of the individual, focusing on them as a person rather than one specific issue.  The Social Prescriber/ Link Worker will then support the service user by linking them with suitable support or activities.  The goal of Social Prescribing Services is to provide individuals with access to a wide range of community-based activities and resources that can help improve their health and wellbeing, 


What are the key components of Social Prescribing:

While many different models of Social Prescribing exist across Ireland, there are commonalities to all social prescribing services.


These include:  

  • A Social Prescriber / Link Worker

  • A referral pathway either from or between a primary care professional.

  • A self-referral pathway to the Social Prescriber / Link Worker.

  • Several guided conversations between the service user and a Social Prescriber / Link Worker will be used to assess the service users' needs and encourage and co-produce solutions to work towards improving the service users' health and wellbeing.

  • Connections to local voluntary, community and social organisations or services and, in some cases, to a health and wellbeing service.

  • A means to measure the uptake and impact of Social Prescribing on the overall health and wellbeing of the service user and, ideally, the wider community and the health service.

  • A means to record barriers service users face when implementing their social prescribing plan and the gaps in available local services, activities and supports. 

A new e-learning module is available on HSE Land entitled “Social prescribing - for healthcare professionals”.

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