The government’s Department of Health and Social Care has announced a new ambition for every patient in the country to have access to social prescribing schemes on the NHS, “as readily as they do medical care.”

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock has set out a plan for the new National Academy for Social Prescribing, to standardise the quality and range of social prescribing available to patients across the country, as well as increase awareness of the benefits of social prescribing by building and promoting the evidence base.

In order to set out the improvements to the service, the independent academy will receive £5 million of government funding and will be led by Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard.

The new academy sets out an intention to bring together all partners from health, housing and local government with arts, culture and sporting organisations to maximise the role of social prescribing, and focus on developing training and accreditation across sectors.

As it stands, only 60% of Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) use social prescribing for patients with anxiety, mental health problems and dementia, despite evidence that patients with long-term conditions who have had access to social prescribing link workers feeling less isolated, and attended 47% fewer hospital appointments as well as 38% fewer visits to A&E.

Matt Hancock explained that the academy will act as a “catalyst”, in order to “bring together the excellent work already being done across the NHS and beyond, building on our NHS Long Term Plan’s ambition to get over 2.5 million more people benefitting from personalised care within the next five years.”

Social prescribing involves helping patients to improve their health, wellbeing and social welfare by connecting them to community services. This can include activities such as art and singing classes.