News & Media

Social prescribing: what is the role of premises in making it happen?


Buildings are just things, right?

Bricks, mortar, steel – they’re the physical boxes in which we live, work, eat and play. For our health service, they’re the places where we deliver care: no more, no less. Fundamental to our work, yes, but so often the unseen piece of the puzzle.

Yet at a time of year when the backlog of maintenance (a leaky roof, the windows letting in cold draughts, a lift being unreliable, the flooring which is worn), unfit buildings and the lack of physical space in some GP surgery and hospital premises rub salt into the wounds of working through winter pressures, perhaps it’s time to think of buildings differently. They are the silent partner of the NHS, but can say so much to patients, and so much about the services they accommodate.

This year, we’re trying to dig deeper into the role of primary care buildings as places to connect us with things which can help us live more healthily. The services which don’t need a GP appointment, but which are increasingly being looked to as a way to ease pressure on you and your team. Whether you call them local community projects or social prescribing schemes, they are services which many of you have been working with for years. Where you have the space to do so, we know many practices work with these projects under the same roof.

How are those relationships strengthened by the ability to share space? Can we measure the benefit for patients when debt advice, the chance for a cuppa with a friendly listener, a group session with a diabetes charity or the meeting point for a community walking group are all just up the corridor from your consulting room?

As the government’s formal pilots of social prescribing approaches move forward and the long term plan puts primary and community health firmly front and centre, we want to build a better understanding of how primary care premises can support growth in this approach, and of the connections you’re building with local projects to support health. For us, the starting point is talking to your practices in our buildings about the schemes which are making a difference for your patients. As we learn about those schemes, we’ll be exploring how our buildings can help forge and deepen those connections. Technology will play a huge part in linking up patients with these services, but when it comes to health, place will never be completely replaced. It’s another reason why for the NHS, buildings are much more than their bricks, mortar and steel.