WILDMAN Josephine M., et al
Background: Social prescribing enables health-care professionals to address non-medical causes of ill-health by harnessing the resources of the voluntary and community sectors in patient care. Although increasingly popular in the UK, evidence for the effectiveness of social prescribing is inconclusive and longer-term studies are needed. This study aimed to explore experiences of social prescribing among people with long-term conditions one to two years after their initial engagement with a social prescribing service. Methods: Qualitative methods comprising semi-structured follow-up interviews were conducted with 24 users of a link worker social prescribing service who had participated in an earlier study. Participants were aged between 40 and 74 years and were living in a socioeconomically-deprived area of North East England. Results: Participants reported reduced social isolation and improvements in their condition management and health-related behaviours. However, many participants had experienced setbacks, requiring continued support to overcome problems due to multi-morbidity, family circumstances and social, economic or cultural factors. Findings indicated that, in this sample of people facing complex health and socioeconomic issues, longer-term intervention and support was required. Features of the link worker social prescribing intervention that were positively appraised by participants, included a highly personalised service to reflect individual goal setting priorities and a focus on gradual and holistic change dealing with issues beyond health. The important role of a strong and supportive relationship with an easily-accessible link worker in promoting sustained behaviour change highlights the importance of link worker continuity. A lack of suitable and accessible voluntary and community services for onward referral acted as a barrier to involvement for some participants. Conclusions: This study highlights issues of interest to commissioners and providers of social prescribing. Engagement with social prescribing for up to two years was examined and continued involvement was identified for those with complex issues, suggesting that a long-term intervention is required. The availability of onward referral services is an important consideration for social prescribing in a time of constrained public spending. From a research perspective, the range of improvements and their episodic nature suggest that the evaluation of social prescribing interventions requires both quantitative and qualitative data collected longitudinally.