Can Social Prescribing Tackle Loneliness? — Scope | Disability forum
Find out how to let us know if you're concerned about another member's safety.

Can Social Prescribing Tackle Loneliness?

KateJopling Member Posts: 1 Connected

I’m Kate and I work as a consultant with organisations in the voluntary sector on a range of issues including ageing, health and care. In recent years I’ve done a lot of work on loneliness like working as Director of the Campaign to End Loneliness, writing the final report of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness and recently assessing progress on the Government’s Loneliness Strategy on behalf of the Loneliness Action Group.

Loneliness and Social Prescribing

One of the flagship announcements in the Government’s Loneliness Strategy last October was the roll out of social prescribing services across England – with funding from NHS England by 2021 every Primary Care Network (PCN) will have a Link Worker to help people to access support and activities in the community.

This is good news. There is limited evidence around what works in tackling loneliness overall, but what there is suggests that offering individuals who are experiencing or at risk of chronic loneliness one-to-one support is a good way of reducing loneliness. With chronic loneliness being defined as feeling lonely often, it is this support that allows them to reconnect with people in their communities

So why am I worried about the roll out of social prescribing?

Making sure Social Prescribing works for Loneliness

Firstly, ‘social prescribing’ is a very stretchy term and, while diversity of provision is good, we need to ensure that the models that roll out are the ones that work. In good social prescribing services, Link Workers spend time getting to know individuals, giving them time and space to talk about the issues. They recognise that usually there is a complex web of practical and emotional barriers that is getting in the way of social connections – not just a lack of information. They also understand loneliness deeply.

Knowing that loneliness can be surrounded by stigma means you appreciate that asking people if they are lonely won’t always elicit a true response. You also want a Link Worker to understand that people who have been lonely for a long-time struggle more in social situations, so people need support to step out. Link Workers need to recognise the personal nature of loneliness and that different people find meaningful connections in different ways, so our offer must be flexible. For one person a community choir may be the answer, another may need support in plucking up the courage to reach out to an old friend.

By contrast there are ‘social prescribing’ services which I’m pretty certain would be no help to someone who was deeply lonely – where support is strictly time-limited, conversations are driven by check lists, and the ‘offer’ consists of a narrow menu of formal services.

Secondly, it’s not yet clear who will fund the community services and activities to which Link Workers will need to refer people. NHS England are only funding the Link Workers themselves. In some areas there are lots of services and activities available already, and so the biggest challenge for Link Workers will be staying up-to-date with what’s available, but in other areas there are gaps. In these areas Link Workers will inevitably identify demands that cannot be met. In some existing services Link Workers play a community development role, helping people develop their own community responses to need. However, it’s not yet clear whether Link Workers will have capacity to do this if they are also trying to meet needs across a PCN population of 50,000.

Finally, there are real risks of unintended consequences in this programme. Work on loneliness isn’t new, and nor are social-prescribing-type services: community navigators and connectors, mentors, and Local Area Coordinators all work in similar ways – as was demonstrated by the programme of shared learning we undertook with the British Red Cross and Co-op partnership. It’s really important that PCNs build upon existing expertise in their communities, but in the rush we risk existing services being decommissioned in favour of new ones. Communities can’t afford to lose that knowledge.

What needs to happen next

The roll out of social prescribing services could be really good news, but if we want it to work for loneliness then we need to build services with loneliness in mind. At the national level we need to keep focused on the issue providing the guidance and support PCNs need to understand loneliness and how to tackle it. We also need to measure the impact of new schemes on loneliness, otherwise we’ll never know if they’re working.

In communities up and down the country local organisations who are already involved in working with lonely and isolated people need to make their voices heard – especially by their local PCNs and other health leaders as they decide what to do. As we set out in this report, the time to act on this is now. 

What are your thoughts on social prescribing? Have health authorities in your area started consulting on new services? Do you believe this sort of community work could benefit you? Let us know in the comments below!



  • dolfrog
    dolfrog Member Posts: 441 Pioneering
    Hi  @KateJopling
    I have a communication disability, which means that anyone trying to help me work around my communication disability to overcome my loneliness has to be trained regarding the complex nature of my disability, and especially the verbal communication problems i have everyday.
    I have Auditory Processing Disorder, my brain having problesm processing and understanding the sounds my ears hear, which includes speech. Currently in the UK the main problem is the professional negligence of most UK Audiologists who fail to even understand the audiology of Auditory Processing Disorders let alone explain these complex issues to any multi discipline support medical professionals or support workers.
    So you would have to have the 3 UK audiology professional bodies radically improve the minimum qualification requirements to include all aspects of audiology including the 4 types of Auditory Processing Disorder.
    I am house bound as I need to avoid the lack of awareness of my communication disability causes by this professional negligence by UK audiologists, and the recommended multi discipline support team which should include psychologists, and speech and language therapists. They the major cause of the loneliness pure disability discrimination. 
  • April2018mom
    April2018mom Posts: 2,868 Connected
    My local community gym has classes for disabled people. There is no one single approach. If it helps, I found some guidance on how to end social isolation.
  • kami24
    kami24 Member Posts: 402 Pioneering
    There are no groups in my area so I feel. Isolated
  • Snowflake56
    Snowflake56 Member Posts: 34 Pioneering
    I am lonely everyday I just wait for my husband to get home,I dont see a soul or rarely a message off anyone,that includes my adult children.Since I stopped working it's like I dont exist with anyone anymore.Ive recently moved and what friends I did have dont keep in touch or visit. I go to bed with dread and sometimes wish I wasnt here,I'm depressed and so lonely its affecting my mental health.
  • newborn
    newborn Member Posts: 741 Pioneering
    Assuming there is no such thing as physical  disability  seems routine. "Go for a brisk daily walk ". Hmmm

    Go to your g.p. is just as out of the question.
  • Ails
    Ails Member Posts: 2,256 Disability Gamechanger
    Hi @Snowflake56, just wanted to say that I am sorry to hear you are struggling at the moment.  I can relate to feeling isolated when I first stopped work too and can appreciate how upsetting this is, especially if you don't see anyone all day.  We live in a village and my friends and family are over an hour away from us, so I am thankful for getting out and about at times here, although sometimes pain keeps me indoors.  Just wanted you to know that the Community is here to support you at any time so please feel free to chat to us.  Do you have any hobbies?  Sometimes that can lead on to joining a group.  Just a thought.  Please keep in touch and let us know how you are getting on.  All the best.  :smile:
    Winner of the Scope New Volunteer Award 2019.   :)
  • Snowflake56
    Snowflake56 Member Posts: 34 Pioneering
    Hi Ails I have hobbies eg arts and crafts but there is nothing were I live to get involved with sadly,there is basically nothing for those with disabilities. My neighbourhood is a little rural but not a million miles from town,I could manage a taxi to get there,but since I've been stuck at home I've lost my self confidence and also find it painful to walk and scared of falling and being alone,so no company to have a chat or a coffee,I feel everyday is like groundhog day,but I keep thinking maybe tomorrow will be better,my friends know i am still chatty and bubbly but dont make any effort even though i message them,i never mention my illness and never moan but feel for some reason I'm not thought of the same.The loneliness is horrible and i do get tearful but never let it show,I've so much to offer i feel I'm a genuine loving person,with no one to share my interests with,I would give anything to have my health back and out and about,so have to find a way around it all like so many others.Thankyou for your support.
  • Chloe_Scope
    Chloe_Scope Scope Posts: 10,557 Disability Gamechanger
    kami24 said:
    There are no groups in my area so I feel. Isolated
    Hi @kami24, I'm sorry to hear this. Have you spoken to your GP about social prescribing in your area?

  • Ails
    Ails Member Posts: 2,256 Disability Gamechanger
    Hi @Snowflake56, you are very welcome and thanks for your post.  Glad to hear that you have some hobbies.  I too like arts and crafts.  What kinds of things do you make?  I enjoy making cards myself.  I'm really sorry to hear you are struggling just now and can appreciate how difficult things must be for you if there isn't much in your area.  I can relate to being frightened of falling when going out and I take taxis out or use my mobility scooter if my husband can't take me places so am thankful for that.  Have you seen the thread on here about social prescribing?  It maybe an idea to speak to your GP to see if there is anything like that near you.  Just a thought.  Sometimes when pain keeps me in I can get quite down at times too so please don't think you are alone.  You are doing really great in keeping a positive mindset and not showing it is getting you down to your friends, but they might understand if you were to talk about it to them.  Again, please speak to us anytime that you fancy a chat.  I am on here most days or even pm me if you prefer.  I am always happy to chat and if I can be of any help to you then please just let me know.  Hope you are feeling a bit better about things today.  All the best.  :smile: x
    Winner of the Scope New Volunteer Award 2019.   :)
  • Snowflake56
    Snowflake56 Member Posts: 34 Pioneering
    Thankyou Chloe and Ails,had a new carpet fitted today and just having 2 people to chat to was so lovely then reality set in when they left,that tomorrow there would be no one visiting or anyone to chat to,you never think being in your fifties that your life has taken such a downward spiral and you feel desperate for human contact,its Halloween the fitters had to leave the front door open,the children are all out with mums and dads it made me smile so much ? days like these are the best,i felt i was part of something again instead of feeling invisible. 
  • kami24
    kami24 Member Posts: 402 Pioneering
    I am alone at 28 so count yourself lucky. Just irritating neighbours and an annoying weird man downstairs coughing constantly on drugs and god knows what 
  • Snowflake56
    Snowflake56 Member Posts: 34 Pioneering
    Kami24 sorry but I dont count myself lucky when I have a disability plus recovering from cancer and my husband also in remission from cancer.
  • Sam_Alumni
    Sam_Alumni Scope alumni Posts: 7,676 Disability Gamechanger
    Please be aware of tone and context in your posts. We want the community to be a safe and supportive place. Please make sure your messages respect other users’ views and suggestions, even if you do not agree with them.

    Take care to present your views tactfully and remember that humour may be misinterpreted.

    Senior online community officer


Complete our feedback form and tell us how we can make the community better.