MEMBERS of the public have been asked for their views on GPs prescribing social activities, such as exercise groups and art classes, in order to improve patients’ physical and mental wellbeing.

The move is part of a new inquiry held by the Scottish Parliament’s Health and Sport Committee into the use of social prescribing by health professionals.

Sometimes referred to as community referral, it is a means of enabling GPs, nurses and other primary care professionals to refer people to a range of local, non-clinical services.

Plans were set out by NHS England earlier this year in an effort to boost the number of social prescriptions.

As part of the use of such prescriptions, “link workers” are appointed to assist GPs in helping patients to find suitable community activities to improve their health and wellbeing.

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A study by The King’s Fund suggested there is emerging evidence that social prescribing can lead to a range of positive health and wellbeing outcomes, including helping to alleviate depression and anxiety.

Holyrood’s Health and Sport Committee has now asked for views on issues including what barriers there may be to social prescribing, how social prescribing initiatives should be monitored and evaluated, and to what extent social prescribing helps to sustain a person’s participation in physical activity and sport.

Committee convener Lewis Macdonald said: “Recent statistics have shown the serious physical and mental health issues Scotland’s population faces, particularly those from more deprived backgrounds.

“We are keen to understand how effective social prescribing can be, and the extent to which it can improve physical and mental wellbeing as well as moving the onus from GPs to a wider multi-disciplinary team.

“Social prescribing covers a range of actions, but our inquiry is particularly focused upon the impact of sport and physical activity, including any barriers to participation and strategies for sustaining participation.

“With Scotland’s NHS under great financial pressure, social prescribing also offers the potential to reduce the financial burden on the NHS and particularly on primary care.”