NHS England has announced the recruitment of 1,000 new staff in the role of ‘Link workers’ by 2021, who will support primary care as part of the NHS Long Term Plan. The intent is help alleviate the issue of patients attending appointments with problems which do not require the attention of a GP, and which can be better solved with signposting to other services, including ‘social prescribing’.
NHS England has estimated that around half of appointments are not directly related to medical conditions. It is hoped that link workers could handle many of these appointments, offering patients longer appointments than would be available from a GP, enabling them to provide tailored recommendations for services or support.
“We will be recruiting a substantial number of people to support general practitioners over the next five years, to help ease the workload and pressures that we know general practice is under. But we see the network of social prescribers as a fundamental change to the way primary care operates and vital to the future. Recruiting social prescriber link workers will be a priority target as a part of the Universal Care Plan.”
– Dr Nikita Kanani, Acting Medical Director of Primary Care, NHS England
The new staff will have their salaries funded by NHS England, and will be deployed across the 1,400 Primary Care Networks in England, enabling a link worker to be available to all practices. NHS England aspire to reach 900,000 social prescribing appointments per year by 2023-24. However, there were 307 million GP appointments in 2018, so the change these staff can effect should be considered in this context.