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ICMHSR awarded funding to evaluate social prescribing

Posted on 18 November 2020

Professor Martin Webber secures funding from the NIHR to evaluate a new model of social prescribing.

The International Centre for Mental Health Social Research has just been awarded funding from the NIHR Research for Social Care programme to evaluate a new model of social prescribing which aims to benefit both individuals and communities.

The Care Act 2014 places a duty on Local authorities to promote the wellbeing of all adults including those not receiving social care. They often work with the community and voluntary sectors to support access to activities and volunteering opportunities that improve people’s wellbeing and reduce social isolation.

The current policy focus on social prescribing supports this and as such, has potential for reducing the need for formal social care services. In social prescribing, staff called ‘link workers’ based in health settings, like GP surgeries, or voluntary organisations refer people to such activities or volunteering opportunities. However, evidence about the difference social prescribing can make to individuals and communities is limited and further research is needed to inform best practice.

This research aims to look at a new model of social prescribing called ‘Community-Enhanced Social Prescribing’ or CESP. It builds on two approaches to working with communities - ‘Connected Communities’ (led by Professor David Morris at the University of Central Lancashire) and ‘Connecting People’ (led by Professor Martin Webber at the University of York) - that have been shown to improve the capacity of communities to meet local needs and have connected people better with local groups and activities. The main purpose of the research, therefore, is to see if this new model is viable, and if the difference it makes can be measured.

This study will apply and test the viability of the CESP model in one voluntary organisation, Bluesci, in Trafford (‘intervention’ site), and using a neighbouring location as a control site. The researchers will test methods of assessing the effectiveness and cost effectiveness of the model. This will work towards evaluating the effectiveness of CESP in a large trial involving many locations in England. Using mixed methods this study includes a before and after study of the outcomes for individuals receiving CESP and in a control group; community surveys in intervention and control sites; and a process evaluation involving in-depth qualitative interviews with Bluesci staff, users, volunteers and the local community, to find out how they experienced CESP.

“Our experiences of lockdown have highlighted the importance of local communities in helping to meet people’s needs,” said Professor Martin Webber, Principal Investigator of the study. “This study is therefore timely in helping to join-up community capacity with the needs of local people.”

“We are really looking forward to evaluating the feasibility of CESP as it has the potential to improve wellbeing for both individuals and communities,” he added.

The study begins in April 2021 and will be conducted in partnership with the Mental Health and Addictions Research Group (University of York), Care Policy and Evaluation Centre (London School of Economics and Political Science) and the Centre for Citizenship and Community (University of Central Lancashire).