The NHS is to recruit more social prescribing link workers to combat loneliness and isolation fuelled by the COVID-19 pandemic.
One in five people who visit a GP surgery do not have a medical problem but can benefit from meeting others or a healthier lifestyle, the NHS said.
Social prescribing link workers, introduced to the NHS last year, spend time with patients to understand the reasons for them seeking help and support them to get involved with activities such as sports teams, cooking classes or social clubs, or taking up life-skill courses to improve their well-being.
More than 1200 of these workers are already helping people improve their mental health and get more exercise through activities from gardening to ballroom dancing.
Now the NHS is fast-tracking recruitment of an additional 500 link workers who will work with GPs and clinical staff in primary care to provide personalised support to 125,000 more people per year.
With the coronavirus pandemic compounding loneliness, isolation and mental health problems for many, the NHS is providing extra funding to groups of GPs so more than 400,000 people a year can benefit from the additional support that link workers can provide.
Widening access to social prescribing support is part of the Government’s Loneliness Strategy of 2018, and in October 2019, the Department for Health and Social Care established the National Academy for Social Prescribing to help inform how local teams can best support those who need their help.
Chair of the National Academy for Social Prescribing, Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard, said: “Link workers are an excellent new addition to the primary care team and are already having a great impact in helping people live their best lives. The academy is building the resources needed to enable social prescribing to thrive and the additional support for PCNs from NHS England is therefore warmly welcomed.”