Primary care networks will be supported by 1,000 social prescribing workers by April 2021, under plans due to be approved by NHS England this week.
The plans for personalised care provision will see each network have access to a social prescriber link worker, whose salary will be fully funded by NHS England.
The workers are being recruited to help patients find suitable activities that are a better alternative to medication, NHS England said.
As first revealed by Pulse, GP practices will be mandated to join primary care networks – covering between 30,000 and 50,000 patients – in return for the NHS long-term plan funding boost, which will see primary and community care get an extra £4.5bn by 2023/24.
The social prescribing link workers were first announced by health secretary Matt Hancock last July, when he pledged a £4.5m investment towards social prescribing schemes.
In the statement today, NHS England said: ‘The NHS long-term plan will see GPs surgeries big and small work to support each other in around 1,400 primary care networks covering the country, with each network having access to a social prescriber link worker and NHS England agreeing to fund their salaries in full.
‘By 2023-24, social prescribers will be handling around 900,000 patient appointments a year.’
‘NHS England plans to recruit 1,000 social prescribing link workers’, it added.
NHS England’s acting medical director of primary care Dr Nikita Kanani said recruiting social prescribers will be a ‘priority target’ of the Government’s personalised care plan.
She said: ‘We will be recruiting a substantial number of people to support GPs over the next five years, to help ease the workload and pressures that we know general practice is under. But we see the network of social prescribers as a fundamental change to the way primary care operates and vital to the future.
BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said it was vital, ‘now more than ever’, that patients are able to see the right health professional within a reasonable timeframe.
He added: ‘The BMA has long-backed social prescribers supporting the general practice team, and this commitment to roll them out across the country is very welcome.’
A version of this article was first published by Pulse’s sister title Management in Practice.