If in a few years you ask your GP to prescribe painkillers for back pain, you might be surprised to find yourself being sent to a gardening or walking club. But with the explosion in interest of social prescription, the whole modus operandi of GPs is due a serious rethink. Let us walk you through the world of social prescription and outline what role businesses can (and should) play in their employees’ health.
Social (as opposed to medical) prescription is the idea that small prescribed changes in people’s behaviour or habits can have dramatic effects on their health. Take for example, our patient with back pain. Sedentary lifestyles combined with low general activity levels is a major cause of aches and pain in office workers everywhere and was even identified by the ONS as a key contributor to the recent exodus of employees from the workforce. In this sense a doctor’s note to do some light cardio is much more effective than anti-inflammatory treatment because it takes aim at the cause, not symptom of the general malady.
Furthermore, if we look at the other cause of our patient’s back pain, sedentary lifestyle, we see a clear opportunity for business to help drive social prescription. Businesses should encourage their workers to get up and get moving. Standing up just once every hour can seriously reduce your risk of developing cancer or osteoporosis. Further, companies which allow and encourage their workers to get moving will see the real effects of social prescription on their bottom lines. Reducing worker sick days has a real potential to boost firm productivity. In the UK women lose 2.3% of their working hours to sickness. Funds consisting of firms which have embraced in-work health outperform their peers by over 2% every decade.
Social prescription is also a key strategy to wrestle with the challenges of an ageing population. Countries across the Global North are ageing rapidly and keeping workers and the retired healthy is a key aim of lawmakers. Establishing behaviours and habits to address health issues before they become chronic is far more sustainable than building a purely reactive healthcare system. Socially prescribing universally accessible ‘treatments’ such as walks, runs, and a healthy diet might seem trite at first glance, but it has a serious capacity to fix our nation’s health.
So, the questions must now be, how do we transition to a proactive social prescription model? What are the respective roles of government, business, and GPs in this new era of healthcare? Answering these questions might just lead to a healthier, happier society…