Press release

Social prescribing guidance to produce better connections

Published on 6 April 2023

Researchers at the University of Dundee have developed the first guidelines for evaluation of an important component of social prescribing.

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Social prescribing is defined as a way of connecting people from health and social care to local, non-clinical services to support their health and wellbeing.

Working with colleagues from the Universities of St Andrews and Stirling, the team from Dundee’s School of Health Sciences produced a guidance paper that has been published in the journal Public Health in Practice

The paper represents the first guidance for evaluation of the connection part of social prescribing schemes. This is the first part of the schemes where health and social care professionals connect people with opportunities in their local communities, such as an exercise group to increase physical activity levels or a hobby club to address feelings of loneliness.

Social prescribing, also known as community referral, is gaining international recognition as a health and social care initiative that improves people’s wellbeing, reduces inpatient admissions and pharmaceutical interventions, and creates more inclusive societies.

Both the UK and Scottish governments have embraced social prescribing as a way of supporting individuals and healthcare systems. New First Minister Humza Yousaf committed to exploring the possibility of appointing a lead for social prescribing when he was Health and Social Care Minister.

There are many ways professionals can connect a person with an appropriate opportunity in their local community. These include direct referral, signposting or prescription by a health or social care professional. They also include indirect routes, such as referral to a link worker who will have a more in-depth conversation with the person then identify an opportunity and connect the person with it.

Dr Kathryn Cunningham, from the School of Health Sciences, said the guidance she and her colleagues have developed will enable people working in the area to figure out what ways work, for whom, in what circumstances, how and why, to successfully connect people with opportunities in their local communities.

“Social prescribing has immense potential but for it to bring its maximum possible benefits, we need to ensure that the opportunities people are connected with are effective in improving health and wellbeing, and that the ways we connect people with those opportunities work for them,” she said.

“It is very important for health and social care professionals to be able to successfully connect people with opportunities to ensure they actually gain the health and wellbeing benefits that they offer. 

“Use of our guidance will help build the evidence base for social prescribing and will facilitate the development of schemes that have the best chance of being effective in improving people’s health and wellbeing, reducing the burden on healthcare services and building social cohesion.”

The Dundee, St Andrews and Stirling team set out to develop evidence-informed guidance for evaluation and evidence synthesis of the process of the connection part of social prescribing schemes. This guidance was underpinned by their recent realist scoping review conducted as part of a project funded by the NHS Fife Endowment Fund. The guidance they developed can be read here.


Jonathan Watson

Senior Press Officer

+44 (0)1382 381489