The Royal College of GPs (RCGP) has suggested that GP surgeries should have access to a dedicated social prescriber who can refer patients to exercise classes, social groups or other activities as an alternative to medical care.
According to the RCGP, this would help tackle the crippling workload experienced by family doctors and it would free up more of their time for the patients that are most in need of their care.
The College has therefore called for all GP surgeries to be funded so that they can have access to a social prescriber, and almost 60 per cent of GPs agreed that this would help to reduce their workload.
Research by the College suggests that the workload in general practice increased by at least 16 per cent between 2007 and 2014, and with the growing population in the UK and more patients developing multiple chronic conditions, it is only set to increase further.
However, separate research has found that GP practices using a social prescribing service reported an average drop in demand on GP services of 28 per cent.
As a spokeswoman for the RCGP said, social prescribing, also known as community referral, is not a new idea, and GPs will always consider the physical, social and psychological aspects of their patients.
However, if these patients could be seen by someone else, then this frees up additional time for the GP to spend on clinical care. As the spokeswoman underlined, this way of working could have wider, long-term benefits for patients, general practice, and the NHS as a whole.
There are many success stories about how social prescribing has transformed the lives of patients, however many practices are not equipped to do it effectively, particularly as a lot of them face intense resource and workforce pressures.