Policy Paper: Social Prescribing of Physical Activity

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Social Prescribing of Physical Activity

Culture Counts has submitted a response to the Health & Sport Committee (Scottish Parliament) inquiry in Social Prescribing of Physical Activity & Sport. The aim of the inquiry is to consider social prescribing’s ability to tackle physical and mental wellbeing issues across Scotland . You can read our response in below or download a PDF version.


Below is Culture Counts written response to the inquiry. We’ve included the questions asked by the committee, and you’ll find links to all our sources at the bottom of this blog post.


To what extent does social prescribing for physical activity and sport increase sustained participation in physical activity and sport for health and wellbeing?

Sustained activity seems to be linked to programmes which are person-centred; if a person is offered a 12 week programme with no ‘hand-holding’ they are less likely to continue as this is not enough time for everyone to form relationships. It also does not account for what happens after 12 weeks. Community Link workers cannot do the ‘hand-holding’ in every case because the workload is too high.1

It’s therefore important for systems to be developed to improve longer term social inclusion; the answer could include supporting projects such as the Scottish Co-production Network social prescribing project, where patients are offered a path-way which includes a range of options and activities over a longer period.

Sustained participation follows maintained sustainable opportunities. The third sector does not have access to sustainable investment in the same way that pharmacies do; which makes the provision of sustained opportunities almost impossible. The provision of opportunities provided by the third sector relies on competitive funding2. A precarious funding environment will produce precarious outcomes3.

Culture Counts hopes that this inquiry will seek to improve the sustainability of third sector organisations by connecting them to long-term funding agreements; which include time for staff training, professional development, and increased and streamlined monitoring and evaluation processes; leading to improved evidence for social prescribing and sustainable options for participants.


What are the barriers to effective social prescribing to sport and physical activity and how are they being overcome?

As above sustainability of third sector organisations providing services and ensuring effective communication between the third sector, the local authority and the NHS is key to effective social prescribing. The community link worker cannot manage every case alone; work must be done in partnership and responsibility for ensuring positive outcomes should be distributed across the network.

The Cross Party Group for Culture are hosting an event ‘Collaborative Culture: Meeting the challenges of person-centred healthcare’ at the Scottish Storytelling Centre (43 High Street, Edinburgh) on Tuesday 8th October from 5:30pm to 8pm. The topic is 'Collaborative Culture: Meeting The Challenges of Person-Centred Healthcare"‘'. All MSPs on the Health and Sport Committee are welcome and encouraged to attend.

The meeting will cover:

  • Evidence of how culture can be successfully used in person-centred health-care

  • Barriers to the provision of cultural health-care services

  • Solutions to the access and provision of cultural health-care services

Guest presentations from:

  • (Evidence) Dr Daisy Fancourt University College London

  • (Barriers) Clare Cook Scottish Coproduction Network

  • (Solutions) Kevin Harrison ARTLINK Central

  • Performance by Tom Binns Glasgow Piano Project

Culture Counts hopes that this inquiry will seek to improve the sustainability of third sector organisations by connecting them to long-term funding agreements

How should social prescribing for physical activity and sport initiatives be monitored and evaluated?

Techniques for measuring the value of social prescriptions vary depending on the activity; for example sport is measured in a different way to music. Some activities lend themselves well to calculations such as weight-loss, whereas intrinsic value and impacts on mental health are more difficult to quantify. The aims of projects and outcomes for participants should be set in a way that allows measurement to happen; in a straight forward way without the need for all evidence to fit neatly into a spreadsheet.

Due to the positive outcomes of participation in cultural projects being less well known than sports activities; I have included some examples below including a response to this inquiry from an expert in dance by Dr Corinne Jola (attached). (Please note the attachment went to the committee and is not included in this blog post, but should be available on the committee’s webpage shortly)

Further evidenced facts on health and wellbeing outcomes which have been achieved through participation in cultural projects; are as follows:

  • Cultural engagement is protective against the development of chronic pain.4

  • Symptoms of moderate to severe post-natal depression are significantly improved in motherswho attend group singing workshops.5

  • People who take part in the arts are 38% more likely to report good health.6

  • The heart rate of new-born babies is calmed by playing lullabies.7

  • Arts therapies reduce the physical and emotional suffering of people with cancer, and the sideeffects of their treatment.7

  • Listening to music before, during or after surgery reduces post-operative pain, anxiety and analgesia.8

  • Strong evidence exists that participating in arts activities improves mental health.9

  • Teenage girls with internalising problems such as low self-worth & depressed mood benefit from dance intervention.10



  1. https://www.tnlcommunityfund.org.uk/media/social_prescribing_connecting_communities_healthcare.pdf?mtime=20190715141932

  2. https://vhscotland.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Gold_Star_Exemplars_Full-Report_June_2017.pdf

  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6014416/

  4. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1526590018303043

  5. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/the-british-journal-of-psychiatry/article/effect-of-singing-interventions-on-symptoms-of-postnataldepression-threearm-randomised-controlled-trial/534122E539704BAEAC0824F9FCACC5A8

  6. https://culturallearningalliance.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/ImagineNation_The_Case_for_Cultural_Learning.pdf

  7. http://www.artshealthandwellbeing.org.uk/appg-inquiry/Publications/Creative_Health_Inquiry_Report_2017.pdf

  8. https://www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/lancet/PIIS0140-6736(15)60169-6.pdf

  9. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/416279/A_review_of_the_Social_Impacts_of_Culture_and_Sport.pdf

  10. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/fullarticle/1390784


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