Examining the evidence relevant to the development of Social Prescription interventions : Gwenlli Thomas publishes her first paper

Gwenlli Thomas, a Bangor University KESS 2 MRes student, has published her first paper in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (Impact Factor 2.849). The paper examines the evidence relevant to the development of Social Prescription interventions that take a co-productive and co-designed approach to improving wellbeing in a community setting.

Co-production is an approach that requires service providers to establish equal relationships with service users, be they individuals, families or communities. Co-production is a term that covers a number of service creation activities such as co-designing services, joint service delivery and joint assessment of services. Studies of co-produced services show that patients are treated as experts of their own situation, and therefore as informed assets. As a result, service users (whether an individual or a whole community) become empowered and more self-sufficient, reducing pressure on public services.

This approach is receiving increasing attention and fits with the Welsh Government’s long-term vision of a holistic health system that focuses on what matters to the individual.

Gwenlli Thomas

As part of her research Gwenlli Thomas explored the evidence around using a co-productive and / or co-designed approach to developing a Social Prescription (SP) service in a community setting. Social Prescription intervention gives health workers the option to refer an individual to local welfare groups or services. They do this when they see that a social, economic or practical problem is at the heart of a patient’s mental or physical health problem. These groups or services can help alleviate any problem that is causing or exacerbating an individual’s health problem e.g. a reading club where an individual can meet new people and tackle loneliness.

The evidence found through the systematic review suggests that co-production and co-design would be an effective means of involving stakeholders in the development and implementation of SP intervention in a community setting. However, the evidence also outlines some steps that need to be considered in order to overcome barriers and facilitate the process. These are discussed fully in the paper, but include:

– appoint a lead to co-ordinate the co-production;

– ensure clear communication between co-producers;

– joint evaluation of the intervention from the outset;

– securing adequate resources to deliver the Social Prescription intervention.

The evidence also suggests that drawing on stakeholder knowledge through co-production also leads to intervention that addresses the well-being needs of the community from the outset. Positive well-being outcomes for service users included increased self-confidence and self-worth, as well as a reduction in social isolation. In line with the objective of co-production, the evidence showed that members of a community were also empowered to have participated in co-production activities. They also appreciated being treated as experts rather than passive consumers.

Gwenlli said,

“I am delighted that this paper has been published. I hope it will be of benefit to a number of organizations in addition to my company partner, Grŵp Cynefin, who wish to co-produce and co-design a Social Prescription intervention in the Nantlle Valley. I am very grateful to my academic supervisors Dr Mary Lynch and Dr Llinos Haf Spencer, Grŵp Cynefin’s Community Initiatives Team and Andrew Rogers of Gwenallt Consulting for their support and guidance throughout my studentship. I would also like to thank KESS 2 for enabling this opportunity in the first place by funding my research as well as allowing me to use part of my budget to pay for the publication.”

Dr Llinos Haf Spencer added,

“Social prescription is something that has been around since the 70s, but with the increasing emphasis in value based healthcare there is more emphasis on the individual and what works best in terms of health and well-being for the person, which is sometimes something other than medication, or something that accompanies medicine

It is important for the patient to be central to the intervention and that is why co-production of social prescription interventions is so important, and co-production provides a good basis for the new interventions as service users’ voices are heard from the start and can shape the intervention.”

In addition, Dr Mary Lynch said,

“The publishing of this systemic review examining the co-production and co-design approaches applied to social prescribing provides peer reviewed evidence that this approach to engagement is imperative for social prescribing interventions to be effective for the community. The results found in this review supports Grŵp Cynefin’s continued approach to collaborative working with the community of the Nantlle Valley in meeting their needs”.

The full published paper can be found here: https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/18/8/3896/htm