“Mental and physical health can be affected by factors such as loneliness or isolation, and issues such as poor housing or money worries,” explains researcher Stephanie Tierney. “Having human contact and meaningful activities to engage in can really help… as can access to appropriate services and support.”
This is the idea behind ‘social prescribing’ – an approach used to connect patients with services and activities that might help them. Patients might be referred to an exercise class or knitting group or put in contact with individuals who can help with, for instance, housing problems or filling in forms. Social prescribing link workers are employed to work in GP practices to understand patients’ non-medical needs and to connect them to relevant classes, groups or services.Cultural activities such as dancing or volunteering at a museum can be part of a social prescribing offer. But research conducted by the Oxford Social Prescribing Research Network at the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences (led by Stephane Tierney and Kamal Mahtani) found that link workers can be wary of referring people to cultural activities and that staff from the cultural sector lack knowledge about social prescribing.
Crucially, this research suggested that link workers not involved in cultural activities themselves were less likely to refer to the sector. “These research findings inspired us to plan the knowledge exchange event,” says Tierney.
The event, held in June 2022 and supported by the Knowledge Exchange Seed Fund, faced the challenges of a train strike and a rise in COVID cases – but still attracted nearly 50 participants. The morning included warm up activities and a presentation of research findings. It then focused on small group discussions about the barriers and opportunities of including cultural activities in social prescribing.
The afternoon offered an opportunity for link workers to sample different activities including dancing, singing, origami, and cartoon drawing. Topics raised were documented by a graphic recorder, Zuhura Plummer, throughout the day.
“The atmosphere in the room was really positive,” comments Tierney. “Those attending were delighted to network with people from so many different sectors and were buzzing with possibilities.”
Many of the participants indicated that they would incorporate ideas from the event in their practice going forward. Others said that they would stay in contact with people they had met on the day. The event also led to people joining the Oxford Social Prescribing Research Network which holds regular meetings and discussions for people with an interest in social prescribing.
“The event generated a list of topics for future research,” adds Tierney. “This was particularly important to us as we want our research agenda to be driven by the interests and needs of those working ‘at the sharp end’ of social prescribing in primary care. Some of these ideas will be developed into grant applications for funding future work on this topic.”
“Social prescribing has huge potential to address the non-medical needs of patients and to support their health and well-being. We were delighted that this event helped raise awareness of the cultural sector’s ability to contribute to their offer and look forward to collaborating further with the sector.”
More information about this event can be found on the Oxford Social Prescribing Research Network website.
This work has also been shared as a research impact case study on the university website.
Funder: KE Seed Fund