Data standards support personalised care for social prescribing

By Sarah Moreton, social prescriber and clinical lead on PRSB social prescribing project

When I agreed to act as a clinical lead on a social prescribing project for the PRSB and NHS England I wasn’t sure what I was signing up for.  I was new in the job and keen to sign up for everything that came my way. Even as a social prescriber, the importance of information records and record keeping hadn’t occurred to me – I’d never thought about how my GP recorded my notes at every visit, or what the nurse practitioner was sharing with my doctor on my behalf.  When I started thinking about it, it became  clear to me,  that there is a gap between  the way social prescribers record their work so it can be shared with other health professionals, and the way information is shared with others involved in social prescribing including the person experiencing it.

The PRSB has been commissioned by NHS England and NHS Improvement to develop a data standard to record and share information about social prescribing. It is  designed to slot into NHS systems, but also  should be adaptable and usable for any kind of social prescribing service in the community, whether NHS related or not. It recognises that social prescribing has existed in the community for many years and celebrates the local charities, community action groups, social care services and many other organisations who have been delivering social prescribing in one form or another.

Networking and meeting with other social prescribers across the UK, via membership bodies  like the National Association of Link Workers, has shown me that social prescribing resources vary hugely across the UK.  Some link workers are still using paper records, or spreadsheets. Some are using GP digital systems like EMIS, or external systems like Elemental or Joy. The point being, consistency is not great across the board for social prescribers. I’m very lucky to work in an area where social prescribing has been embraced as a huge positive by the Primary Care Network.  But this isn’t the case across the board – yet. In order to raise our profile as link workers, we need to be integrated into primary care services, not just work on the periphery of the NHS.  We need to be able to demonstrate the value and impact of our work, measure and report on that impact. Social prescribing will never be  one-size fits all . The new data standard recognises this and will help us achieve our goals as link workers.

My work takes place in an area on the outskirts of Liverpool which is one of the most deprived in the UK. Rates of poor mental health, respiratory illness, alcohol use and smoking are higher than the UK average.  These health inequalities are not random and are influenced by all kinds of social, economic and environmental factors. Social prescribing takes these factors into account with the aim of supporting people to take greater control of their health and reduce  those inequalities.

One of the issues with social prescribing is being able to show the value of the work we’re doing. Without a standard for recording and sharing information as part of our holistic practice, social prescribers are going to remain on the boundaries of the multi-disciplinary team. We need to present quality data that shows the true picture of social prescribing. Our work is so much more than recording a phone call or a letter.  When a referral comes in for someone with severe anxiety who hasn’t left the house in a year, and that referral is closed three months later with the individual having attended a local social group and started enjoying their life, it’s what happens in-between that first meeting and the goal being achieved that current systems aren’t always capable of recording.  We don’t currently have a way to capture all that work that goes on in-between.

The data standard will recognise that social prescribing is personal and will never be ‘one size fits all’. We need to support social prescribers by providing a consistent and effective system to record their work.  We need to be able to support people in receipt of social prescribing so that they feel listened to and confident that their care within the NHS is joined up. 

I’ve been really impressed and pleased to get involved with the PRSB’s project, because it has shown me first-hand how dedicated NHS England is to social prescribing and the move towards personalised care. Now, I understand the impact information standards can have in creating personalised, joined-up care in social prescribing and I am delighted to further this work as clinical lead for PRSB’s project, to achieve better care for my clients and safer working for my fellow social prescribers.

The social prescribing standard has now been published and can be viewed here.

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