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For the September 2019 Australia’s Health Panel survey, CHF partnered with the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) and the NHMRC Partnership Centre on Health System Sustainability to get consumer views about the merits of “social prescribing” and how it could be supported in Australia.

We know that social determinants have a significant influence on health and therefore linking with services outside the health system could improve health outcomes. Estimates also suggest that around 20% of patients consult their GP for advice or support with what are primarily social problems. “Social prescribing” is about providing a mechanism to enable GPs, nurses and other health professionals to refer people to a range of local, non-clinical services (e.g. housing assistance, legal advice, exercise classes, Men’s Shed etc).

There were 218 consumers respondents for this survey who reported the following about social prescribing in Australia:

  • 57% of consumers said their primary care provider never discussed using community programs or services to improve their health and 27% said they rarely discussed it.
  • 88% of consumers agreed or strongly agreed that community programs and services can help manage health and wellbeing.
  • 68% of consumers were interested in participating in community programs or services to address health and wellbeing issues.
  • 44% of consumers said they currently attend community programs or services to support their health and wellbeing.
  • 52% of consumers felt knowledgeable about local community programs and services.

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Figure 1- Consumer responses to question "Where do you get information about local activities from?”
Figure 1- Consumer responses to question "Where do you get information about local activities from?”

  • 67% of consumers said they would be likely to attend a community program or service if their primary care provider referred them
  • 75% of consumers said they would be likely to attend an appointment with a community support worker to discuss options for community programs if referred by their primary care provider.
  • 58% of consumers said the kinds of activities they would like to attend are available in their local area.
  • The most common reasons for not attending currently include:
    • Cost of attending
    • Timing of the sessions
    • Transport/distance required to travel
    • Not feeling comfortable
    • Having caring responsibilities
  • Types of activities suggested included: Disease specific support groups, health and fitness programs, library events, book clubs, yoga, pilates, tai chi, meditation, community volunteering, men’s shed, mental health support groups, community gardening, bush walking, social sport, community choir, movie club, ballet classes

Overall, these results suggest that there would be support amongst the broader Australian community for healthcare providers to embrace social prescribing as part of treatment. Consumers believe that such services can improve health outcomes and would go to a wide range of such services if recommended by a healthcare provider. However currently very few consumers discuss such options with their healthcare provider and a large proportion do not feel knowledgeable about what services are available in their local area, resulting in only a minority of consumers actually participating in these community programs to improve their healthcare status. In addition, should social prescribing become a larger part of Australia’s healthcare system efforts must be made to overcome barriers such as costs, logistics and other responsibilities the patient being treated is managing.

The results of this survey were combined with companion surveys of General Practitioners and Allied Health Professionals to inform the Social Prescribing Roundtable co-hosted by the CHF in November 2019. The full report from the roundtable can be found on the CHF website. CHF will use these results to advocate for a more systematic approach to social prescribing in Australia including through the National Preventive Health Strategy and the 10 Year Primary Health Care Plan that are currently being developed by Government.

The Consumers Health Forum of Australia would like to thank all panellists for kindly giving their time to participate in this survey. Any questions about this survey and its findings can be directed to info@chf.org.au.

Note- as each question in the survey was optional the number of responses for each question varied across the survey. This is why the ‘n’ for each set of answers may not add up to the same total number of responses for each question.

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