The Government has earmarked millions of pounds to promote activities including football, painting and singing in an effort to support people to stay connected and maintain their health and wellbeing following the COVID-19 pandemic.
The National Academy for Social Prescribing (NASP) has been awarded £5m by the Department of Health and Social Care to help tackle loneliness, improve wellbeing and recovery from COVID-19.
Funding has also been set aside to support local community partnerships, encourage innovation and improve evidence base for “social prescribing”.
A spokesman for the DH said that working with partners including the Arts Council England, Natural England, Money and Pensions Service, NHS Charities Together, Sport England and NHS England, the academy will support a range of local community activities.
Funds have also been earmarked to boost access to money advice for people impacted by COVID-19.
The spokesman said: “The funding will connect people to initiatives in their local communities to improve their mental health and wellbeing in response to the impact of COVID-19, including improved green spaces, singing and physical activities as well as access to tailored debt advice.”
Projects include Newcastle United Foundation’s ‘Be a Game Changer’ programme and ‘12th Man’ programme which work to support men with mental health issues.
The Southbank Centre is running the “Art by Post” initiative which will see free creative activity booklets be sent out to people across the UK who are living with dementia and other chronic health conditions.
English National Opera has partnered with Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust to devise an integrated six-week pilot programme of “singing, breathing and wellbeing” aimed at supporting and enhancing the recovery of COVID-19 survivors.
The Money and Pensions Service and Mental Health UK have created a Money Support Pack for people who need support with their mental health as a result of COVID-19.
Critics have questioned the efficacy of social prescribing, but Minister for Health Jo Churchill said this new funding is “hugely important”.
She said: “It will allow us to build on the merits of social prescribing and encourage innovation in local projects, as well as supporting people to remain connected with their local community, reduce loneliness and improve their wellbeing.
“GPs and social prescribing link workers have been working incredibly hard to support their patients through this challenging time. As we begin to support the move out of lockdown, social prescribing will be key to tackling health inequalities and helping people recover and rebuild their lives.”
James Sanderson, CEO of the National Academy for Social Prescribing, said: “Now more than ever, the pandemic has shown the value of social prescribing in helping people to stay connected, feel supported and to maintain their wellbeing.
“The National Academy for Social Prescribing has an ambitious agenda to support people to live the best life they can by accessing support in their local communities based on what matters to them. We will be working with key partners across national and local government, the NHS, and the voluntary and community sector to build the support structures necessary to enable social prescribing to thrive.”
Caroline Siarkiewicz, Chief Executive of the Money and Pensions Service, said: “Financial, physical and mental health are all deeply connected. We’re looking forward to working with NASP, to ensure that social prescribing link workers can connect people to local money advice and guidance services, to improve financial wellbeing as a core part of COVID support.
“Alongside the array of innovative projects, the help provided by social prescribing link workers has been vital, particularly as the pandemic and the lifting of lockdown has had an impact on those who are already vulnerable, affecting their wellbeing and support networks more so than normal.
“Working remotely or by providing support through social distancing, link workers continue to manage existing social prescribing caseloads as well as supporting those who need it most.”