Driving forward social prescribing: A framework for Allied Health Professionals

What is social prescribing?

Social prescribing, sometimes referred to as community referral, is a means of enabling people to be referred to a range of local, non-clinical services. 

Recognising that people’s health is determined by economic and environmental factors, social prescribing seeks to address people’s needs in a holistic way. It also aims to support people to take greater control of their own health.

Social prescribing can meet a wide range of needs, with many schemes aiming to improve mental health and physical wellbeing. It can be used to support adults, young people and children as well as people with learning disabilities or mental health problems. It can be used in primary and secondary care. Social prescribing can also help to address social issues such as debt, unemployment, gambling and loneliness.

Examples of schemes include volunteering, arts activities, group learning, gardening, befriending, cookery, healthy eating advice and a range of sports.

Why should I be interested in social prescribing?

The extent to which we have control over our lives, have good social connections and live in healthy, safe neighbourhoods are all important influences on health. These community-level determinants are protective of good mental and physical health and can buffer against stressors across the life course.

Community-centred ways of working can be more effective than more traditional services in improving the health and wellbeing of marginalised groups and vulnerable individuals. For this reason, they are an essential way of reducing health inequalities within a local area or community.

Social prescribing and community-based support is part of the NHS Long-Term Plan’s commitment to make personalised care business as usual across the health and care system. Social prescribing is one of the six components of Universal Personalised Care. The NHS Long Term Plan published in January 2019 has a commitment to personalised care and increasing access to social prescribing for the whole population. 

Social prescribing should also be used by Allied Health Professionals working outside of the NHS. Social prescribing improves outcomes for people by giving more choice and control over their lives. It is effective at targeting the causes of health inequalities and is particularly useful for people who need more support with their mental health, have one or more long-term conditions, are lonely or isolated, and/or have complex social needs that affect their wellbeing. 

There is a growing body of evidence that social prescribing reduces pressure on the NHS by directing people to more appropriate services and groups – an evidence summary published by the University of Westminster suggests that where a person has support through social prescribing, their GP consultations reduce by an average of 28% and A&E attendances by 24%.

More information and background to social prescribing is available in the All Our Health guidance on social prescribing.

Allied Health Professionals (AHPs) and social prescribing 

There are 14 types of allied health professional:

  • Art Therapists
  • Dramatherapists
  • Music Therapists
  • Chiropodists/Podiatrists
  • Dietitians
  • Occupational Therapists
  • Operating Department Practitioners
  • Orthoptists
  • Osteopaths
  • Prosthetists and Orthotists
  • Paramedics
  • Physiotherapists
  • Diagnostic and Therapeutic Radiographers
  • Speech and Language Therapists

The ways in which AHPs will use social prescribing will vary according to their role. All AHPs however, have the skills and knowledge to use social prescribing to address both the presenting needs of the person and those which become apparent later on.

AHPs can engage with social prescribing in four main ways. These can be viewed as a spectrum from low AHP input (active signposting) to high input (AHP as prescriber). You may find that some of your social prescribing activities sit between the categories on this spectrum.

Click on the titles on the image below to visit the four sections of the framework.


Project report and recommendations

The project report provides background information to the development of the framework, including survey and tweet chat findings. It also states a number of recommendations for AHPs, AHP leaders and managers, and system leaders to ensure that AHP social prescribing is supported going forward.

Driving forward social prescribing A framework for Allied Health Professionals


PDFs of framework

To download PDF's of each section of the framework, please click on the links below.

Active Signposting


Refer to link worker


AHP as social prescriber


AHPs promoting, growing and developing social prescribing



With thanks to the following organisations who supported the development of the framework.

British and Irish Orthoptic Society Chiltern music therapy College of paramedics Community fund
Connect health Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundations Trust Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists Green Gym
TCV the conservation volunteers College of Radiographers


Royal College of Occupational Therapists


Street Games


The British Association of Art Therapists


The British Association of Drama Therapists


The Association of UK Dieticians


The British association of music therapy


The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy


The College of Podiatry


The Institute of Osteopathy


British Association for Paediatric Otolaryngology


The Association for Perioperative Practice


The NHS organisations involved are NHS England and NHS Improvement.