Connecting health and social care systems with Social Prescribing 

By Kathryn Dunmore, Canadian Red Cross

We are always looking for ways to provide more resources for better health care for Canadians. Our leadership role in establishing the Canadian Institute for Social Prescribing (CISP) will enhance health care in multiple ways. 

What is social prescribing? 

CISP is a new national network which will link people, evidence, and share practices that connect people to community-based supports and services that can help improve their health and wellbeing.

An elderly woman and man smiling while holding paintbrushes with a younger woman leaning in and smilingLaunched in March 2022, with funding from the Public Health Agency of Canada under the leadership of the Canadian Red Cross, the Institute is rooted in a collective impact approach. Social Prescribing brings community capacity and health-care services closer together by directly addressing the social determinants of health, from loneliness and social isolation to racism and ageism to income and housing and much more.  

Recently, CISP made its official introduction as Canada’s hub for connection, collaboration, and community partnerships. In its webinar launch, CISP director Sonia Hsiung says there is so much potential for CISP in Canada, as social prescribing is a prescription for possibilities. 

“What social prescribing at its fullest can offer, is an intentional collaboration between health and social care systems, practitioners and individuals that create a more connected community,” says Sonia. “It prioritizes and enables a person’s ability to determine their own goals, take control of their own well-being in a supportive pathway by asking what matters to them, and co-designing those solutions together.” 

Working together 

Community partnerships play a key role. The Canadian Red Cross is serving as the anchor for the Institute, and the Red Cross’s chief of health, Tanya Elliott, says it’s a perfect fit: 

“The Canadian Red Cross is honored to be serving as the anchor for the CISP. Social prescribing is a practice – and the work of the CISP holds such meaningful alignment to the transformation that is currently underway within our own community health programming at the Red Cross.” 

Canadian Red Cross already offers many such programs, often serving older adults and an aging population, as well as those coping with mental health challenges and the effects of isolation and loneliness. This includes the health equipment loan program, transportation services, meal delivery programs, and more recently the friendly calls program. 

One webinar participant, who was connected to social prescribing by his primary care provider through Active Aging in British Columbia, said, “Programs like social prescribing can both prevent concerns and symptoms from becoming pathologies, and in a non-clinical or non-medical setting can help people win over these challenges. I guess that’s what social prescribing has been doing for me.” 

The plan for CISP is to gather the groups across Canada like Active Aging to deepen and grow the practice of social prescribing, so that stories like his can become the norm. With a focus on priority populations and health equity as a cornerstone for an effective practice, Dr. Grace Park says social prescribing has a bright future in taking some of the load off the primary health-care providers: 

“We can help our neighbours and we don’t have to turn to the health-care sector for everything, because that’s not where health really lies; they take up just a segment of the big picture of a healthy compassionate community.” 

The social prescribing team is looking forward to inspiring and creating these partnerships and to watching them thrive together through CISP.  

Learn more about social prescribing resources at  

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