News & Media

Social prescribing: space for the solutions?


“All too often, GPs are the only human contact which chronically lonely patients have. Three out of four GPs say they see between one and five people a day who have come in mainly because they are lonely. These moments of meaningful connection matter.”

This was the Royal College of GPs’ recent diagnosis of the impact of loneliness on the work of doctors all over the country – and the reason why the college is calling for every practice to be able to access a social prescriber.

Social prescribing, community referral, holistic approaches to health: call the concept what you will, but the idea that we need to focus as much attention on the social, environmental and economic factors which can seriously affect our health as we do on the physical, is not at all new.

Since we began our work 15 years ago, many GPs have talked to us about the importance of space for these sorts of services and relationships in primary care buildings: Well Street Surgery in Hackney includes a large community room and modern kitchen facilities where classes on shopping for and cooking healthier food can run. Our work with the team at Wide Way Medical Centre in Mitcham and investment from NHS England’s London Improvement Grant Fund has given the surgery almost 200m2 of extra space, with which the practice plans to support its work on social prescribing and supporting self-care. Frome Medical Centre in Somerset has won plaudits for the work it’s done since creating a building which enables primary care to work much more closely with local charities, groups and community services.

Our project with Active Cheshire worked with one of our Warrington medical centre sites to test the idea of community walks for older people – looking at the potential to promote surgery buildings as focal points for physical activity. Elsewhere, our ‘Mile Maps’ programme – which offers any GP practice a free wall map detailing a one-mile route for stepping out from the surgery door, which can be recommended to staff and patients – has now been rolled out to more than 90 practice buildings around the country.

We know there are many more examples of practices working with charities and local organisations to connect patients with experiences, skills and knowledge which can help them deal with the complexities of loneliness and its impact on health.

With the right physical infrastructure to better connect with or accommodate social prescribing links, what could we achieve for lonely patients – and how might it help reduce pressures on GPs?


Roger Thompson is our Regional Portfolio Manager, and led our work to expand Wide Way Medical Centre