Matt Hancock. Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images.

The government today announced a new independent National Academy for Social Prescribing. It will support local healthcare professionals in prescribing arts, sport and leisure activities to more people across the country.

The Academy is backed by £5 million of government grant and headed up by Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, the outgoing Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners.

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock has set out the ambition for every patient in the country to have access to social prescriptions on the NHS as readily as they do medical care.

“This Academy is much more important than any one individual. It’s about all of us in health, arts, culture, sports communities coming together around one simple principle: that prevention is better than cure,” Hancock said.

“The National Academy for Social Prescribing will act as a catalyst to bring together the excellent work already being done across the NHS and beyond, building on our NHS Long Term Plan’s ambition to get over 2.5 million more people benefitting from personalised care within next five years.”

The project would support the NHS Long Term Plan’s commitment to refer at least 900,000 people to social prescribing within five years, with the help of 1,000 new social prescribing link workers who will be in place by 2020-21.

As of now, only 60 per cent of Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) use social prescribing for patients with anxiety, mental health problems and dementia.

“The role of social prescribing can play in keeping our nation healthy should not be underestimated. It can keep people better engaged in being healthier, happier and participating more in their communities, while potentially reducing the need to see a GP,” said Jo Churchill, Minister for Primary Care, Public Health and Prevention.

NPA Acting Chair, Andrew Lane, said: “Medicines can’t cure everything. As pharmacists we are about people not just pills.  Social prescribing is based on the understanding that human health is a complex interplay of physical and mental wellbeing, in which our social circumstances are very significant.”

Dr Hilda Hayo, CEO and Chief Admiral Nurse at Dementia UK, also welcomed the announcement.

“The stronger evidence base that this new academy brings around social prescribing will help to build up awareness of it amongst health and social care professionals, and so allow more families to access this kind of support,”  Hayo said.