“Social prescribing” of activities like cooking or gardening has failed to improve patient health or cut GP visits, a pilot scheme evaluation has found.
Pulsetoday reports that the study examined a social prescribing scheme currently in use at 22 GP practices in areas of East London, in which GPs and other practice staff create a care plan for patients, referring them to at least one local service that offers activity programs including art, cooking, gardening and mother and child groups.
The aim of the scheme was to reduce the number of GP visits and improve the health of people with type 2 diabetes and people aged over 50 who suffered from isolation.
But the study showed these patients continued to have higher GP consultation rates, and to use more prescription medicines than the control group, a year after the pilot began.
The patients who were referred continued to have an average of eight GP visits a year compared with four a year among controls.
Lead author Dr Sally Hull, a practicising GP and reader in primary care development at the Queen Mary University London, told Pulse that, “There was no demonstrable impact on GP consultation rates” and that “We were not able to show a change in outcomes such as levels of depression, anxiety or confidence in self-management”.
However more work would be needed to evaluate the scheme given that the researchers only had full outcomes follow-up data on a small percentage of patients, she said: a randomised trial would be ideal.
She also said the results do not mean the scheme should be stopped – the UK government wants to increase the amount of social prescribing available – but that better ways should be found of evaluating it.