Bromley by Bow Centre is one of the earliest pioneers of social prescribing. On Social Prescribing Day (10th March, 2022), we were delighted to celebrate the growth of this service and acknowledge the work of the skilled link workers who form its heart.

The service provides invaluable wellbeing and health improvement support to thousands of people. Inevitably, as it grows, untruths proliferate about what social prescribing is, who pays for it and what it does. So, we’ve done some myth-busting:

Myth 1: Social prescribing requires a GP referral

This is not true. All types of health care and other professionals can make referrals to social prescribing, or individuals can refer themselves directly for support with their health and wellbeing.   They don’t have to wait for a referral from their GP surgery or hospital. Medical notes are updated (with permissions) to ensure care and support is joined up. See the link at the end for more information on how to access our social prescribing service.

Myth 2: It’s a prescription

Social prescribing (SP) isn’t a prescription someone has to to follow. It is more like an informed recommendation to a person that they may benefit from spending time with an experienced social prescribing link worker. Together, they talk about what a person is facing, what help they need and how to access the right support in the community. Many factors impact a person’s health and wellbeing and these are very often not medical-related at all.

Myth 3: Social prescribing is instead of medication

This is often not true. It depends on each person’s situation. SP provides an alternative route to good health and wellbeing. It was developed in response to the fact that the majority of factors affecting mental and physical ill health are social and economic. To feel well, people need friends and a feeling of belonging, a sense of purpose, financial security, exercise, a safe home and hope for their future. They may still require medication for health conditions but often when the underlying issues are addressed, people’s health and outlook improves.

Myth 4: Social prescribing is offered instead of a GP appointment

Not necessarily. Social prescribing sessions with a link worker, and ongoing support in the community, can sometimes mean people find they need to contact their GP surgery less. However, many people have health conditions that require ongoing management. Our link workers work in teams with health professionals to provide joined up support.  They are able to offer longer sessions to get to know a person and give them space to make sense of their situation and feelings. Then together they jointly develop a plan to agree next steps.

Myth 5: It’s the same as counselling

No, it’s different. Although social prescribing, like counselling, provides a therapeutically safe space to talk and explore issues, SP link workers are also able to support people practically. They do this by jointly developing action plans and helping people access the right support for their longer term health and wellbeing.  If a link worker feels someone can benefit from counselling, they can refer into appropriate services.

Myth 6: Social prescribing is funded by the NHS

Social prescribing support is offered free of charge to individuals but it is only partly funded. NHS England is helping to fund one link worker per primary care network in the UK.  Many of these networks, like our own in Mile East and Bromley by Bow, are funding more link workers themselves because they understand the value of social prescribing to their patients and to clinicians.

However, crucially, the success of social prescribing is dependent on the community and voluntary sectors for most of the services SP link workers refer people to. Many of these community organisations have to work hard to raise their own funding to provide their services to people on low income without charge. Here at the Centre we offer many of these services ourselves and must also raise our own funds to support them. These separately funded services underpin the effectiveness of social prescribing. Without them, social prescribing would have limited impact.

Myth 7: Social prescribing is a medical service

It’s not but it’s complementary. Although many social prescribing link workers across the country work in health settings, many others are specifically-trained professionals working in the community and employed by charitable organisations.

Social prescribing is concerned with the whole person and their life situation. This holistic approach means link workers are able to suggest a wide variety of non-medical services and methods to support people who are addressing complex issues and problems.

Myth 8: SP is mainly about linking people with social groups

Far from it. Social groups are important ways of connecting people for improving mental health and addressing isolation, but there are many other things SP links people with. These include social welfare advice, building skills, accessing training, finding work, volunteering, becoming active and being creative.
Social prescribing link workers are highly skilled at navigating all the hundreds of services on offer in communities and recommending the right ones to each individual based on a set of criteria.

Myth 9: People could find their own support services without a link worker

This is true. However, it can be hard to know about the many things on offer and what is available. Most people benefit from talking first and gently ‘unpicking’ issues and difficulties. Through the link worker, people build knowledge of a whole variety of solutions and options they may not have been aware of. Social prescribing helps build confidence too; to help people take important next steps.

Myth 10: There is a long waiting list

This is not true. The service is in demand in our local area but people are usually contacted by a link worker within two weeks, sometimes earlier.

Rapid Response Social Prescribing has a two-day turnaround to deal with more urgent needs.

Find out more

Read what a clinician has to say

Find out how social prescribing helped Tarana 

Photo Layla, Social Prescribing Manager
A man visits a link worker


Social Prescribing

Our social prescribing team can help in three ways. By giving you time to explore what’s important to you; help you identify issues and challenges you’d like to address and then find services and activities to support you in your local community.

Learn more