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Lib-scribing? Our role in improving people’s health and wellbeing

Social lib-scribing

Suffolk Libraries' CEO Bruce Leeke shares his thoughts on how libraries can play a key role in the future of social prescribing.

These days the NHS is focusing more of its resources on prevention and as a result is looking for community solutions to people’s health challenges.

Major initiatives supporting a drive towards preventative health include personalised care budgets and social prescribing. The King’s Fund says:

“Social prescribing enables GPs, nurses and other primary care professionals to refer people to a range of local, non-clinical services to support their health and wellbeing.”

There has been much work put into developing infrastructure to support preventative health and especially social prescribing across the country. The creation of the National Academy of Social Prescribing and, more recently, the shift to replacing current NHS commissioning pathways with Integrated Care Systems has seen a seismic shift in approach. At a local level there are already established networks of ‘link workers’ to support primary care as well as the engagement of a number of voluntary sector partners to support the role out of social prescriptions.

This evolution is undoubtedly a hugely positive step forward. The concept of social prescribing as a care pathway is relatively new to the NHS but in libraries, we’ve been doing it for years albeit without the headline grabbing moniker.

In Suffolk, in pre-Covid times, we were running over 14,000 events and activities every year in libraries which were attended over 200,000 times. These vary from regular activities like older people’s networking groups and Wordplay for early years, right through to bike maintenance clubs, sewing therapy, table tennis and even gardening. We also provide dozens of free online activities including yoga classes, Pilates, and Pound Fit to name but a few.

The thing they all have in common is that they all provide a powerful social prescription for the user. For example, we carried out a survey of those who’d taken part in our online ‘Jumpstart January’ fitness activities this year and 85% said they’d continued some form of physical activity afterwards.

I believe libraries can play a key role in the future of social prescribing. They can increase the diversity and richness of social prescriptions, provide stigma-free, non-judgemental places to meet an individual’s needs and at the same time reduce the burden on primary care. We’ve been involved in some preliminary conversations with NHS partners about what we offer but there is still a long way to go before we’re recognised as the smorgasbord of social prescriptions that we undoubtedly are!

Who knows, hopefully one day we’ll be talking about lib-scribing as a mainstream way that people can support their health and wellbeing.

Find out more about what Suffolk Libraries does to help you with your health and wellbeing.