Faith in Social Prescribing

Theos is undertaking a substantial research project in partnership with the Good Faith Partnership and the Church Works Commission to explore the role of churches and faith communities in social prescribing.

At present, the NHS and social care services are under extreme pressure – and not everybody who goes to a doctor does so for purely medical reasons. Statistics suggest that as many as 1 in 5 patients who go to their GP have non–medical issues, such as loneliness or stress. These are real and genuine needs, which can have a health impact, since physical, mental, and spiritual health are essentially intertwined – but they won’t be fixed by medical interventions alone, if at all. As such there is a growing recognition of the need for creative, holistic solutions to this challenge. One such innovative model is social prescribing.  

Social prescribing is a model whereby primary health care providers can refer individuals to non–clinical services to benefit their health and wellbeing. Link workers are employed by local NHS trusts to connect individuals with appropriate activities once they have been referred by a GP or community nurse. Activities prescribed under this model are typically provided by voluntary/community sector organisations, with examples including volunteering, art, group learning, gardening, befriending, cookery and sports.   

There is a groundswell of support from within the charity and voluntary sector, which is keen to work constructively with the health system. Research by National Voices found that concerns about social prescribing from within the sector are not about whether it should be rolled out, but how.   

NHS England has also made a significant commitment to implementing social prescribing, recruiting 1,000 link workers to deliver the model in every part of the country with a goal of benefitting 900,000 people over the course of the next two years. The majority of these 1,000 workers have been recruited and are now in post.  

However, the way in which social prescribing is implemented varies significantly across the country. Within this, the understanding of the role that churches and other faith groups might play in delivering social prescribing is patchy​ at best​, although there are examples of good practice at a local level. The National Academy for Social Prescribing has recently released its strategy for 2023–2026 which will focus on enabling social prescribing to thrive more consistently across the country.  

To complement this work, we are therefore embarking on a significant piece of research into the scale and scope of faith group involvement in social prescribing across England.  

​​The project will involve a survey of link workers nationally, delivered in partnership with the NHS England social prescribing team, asking about their interaction with faith groups. We will then conduct semi–structured interviews with NHS stakeholders, academic/policy experts and leaders and stakeholders of national faith charities, alongside regional focus groups with Link Workers and individuals who have experienced social prescribing. The outcome will be twofold, both promoting the value of the model to faith leaders and highlighting the value of faith to NHS ​and government ​stakeholders. The research will explore the specific challenges and complexities of faith engagement in social prescribing, providing recommendations and examples of best practice that can be replicated systematically and consistently across the country. ​​     ​​​  

The project will conclude in spring of 2025.  

Project team 

Marianne Rozario 

Dr Marianne Rozario is Senior Researcher and Projects Lead at Theos. She is the co–author of Ashes to Ashes: beliefs, trends, and practices in dying, death, and the afterlife. She has a PhD in International Relations exploring the notion of Catholic agency in international society through the University of Notre Dame Australia, and a MA (Hons) in International Relations from the University of St. Andrews. She is a Lecturer at St Mary’s University.  

Esther Platt 

Esther is Senior Consultant at the Good Faith Partnership. Esther has a broad experience of working with charities and churches to enable them to maximise their social impact. She has worked as Head of Strategy for Just Love UK and as a Project Manager for Eido Research. She therefore brings experience of strategic planning, stakeholder management, and qualitative research skills to this project.

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