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Making a difference with social prescribing

Industry bodies point the way ahead for stores to work at healthcare’s coalface.

The Health Food Institute and the National Association of Health Stores have lifted the lid on a nationwide opportunity for retailers to help Britain’s patients avoid the doctor.

The NHS Social Prescribing network of ‘Link Workers’ was highlighted at the Health Food Institute’s summer event in London.

Keynote speaker Dr Michael Dixon, National Clinical Lead for Social Prescription, told delegates that Social Prescribing is a way for local agencies to refer people to Link Workers who take an holistic approach to people’s health and wellbeing, thus reducing the burden on Britain’s stretched GPs.

Now the NAHS is working on a toolkit to help health store owners and their staff to connect with Link Workers in their communities and stresses the importance of the HFI Protocol in demonstrating professional competence.

“Any store that undertakes to work alongside the primary care profession will need to demonstrate that their staff are highly trained and signed up to the HFI Protocol to help safely guide [patients] to the appropriate dietary and lifestyle changes,” says the NAHS.

Link Workers connect people to community groups and statutory services for practical and emotional support. These positions have only existed for the past year and some areas are still recruiting to fill the salaried positions as well as volunteer roles. The number of Link Workers is expected to triple in the next 18 months.

Dr Dixon suggested that health food stores connect with local Link Workers to ensure they are regularly signposted to for dietary and supplemental advice.

Viridian MD Cheryl Thallon, who sits on both the HFI and NAHS councils, believes this is an opportunity for improved community connection.

“By connecting and building a relationship with local Link Workers, health food stores may develop a regular stream of clients recommended to their store,” she said.

“Store owners and managers have a blank canvas to make this happen. They can plough their own field within reason. It’s all happening incredibly fast.”

James Sanderson, NHS England’s Director of Personalised Care, said: “Social Prescribing is an important component of the NHS comprehensive model of Personalised Care and there is emerging evidence that it can lead to a range of positive health and wellbeing outcomes for people, such as improved quality of life and emotional wellbeing. The aim is that social prescribing schemes lead to a substantial reduction in the use of NHS services, including GP attendances.”

Could you be a Link Worker?

Few health store owners would have the time to broaden their reach in the community by becoming a Link Worker, but it nonetheless presents an opportunity for some. Others will want to connect with their local Link Workers to offer assistance.

The National Association of Link Workers, an independent grassroots social organisation, is running a series of 10 invitation-only regional conferences across England, Scotland and Wales in October and early November.

Visit for the full programme and to enquire about attendance or membership.

Visit for an outline of how social prescribing works. For information on the HFI Protocol visit

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