Report on the 18-month evaluation of social prescribing in Queensland

Sharman, L.S., Hayes, S., Chua, D., Haslam, C., Cruwys, T., Jetten, J., Haslam, S.A., McNamara, N. ORCID: 0000-0003-3123-3678, Baker, J.R., Johnson, T. and Dingle, G., 2023. Report on the 18-month evaluation of social prescribing in Queensland. Queensland: The University of Queensland. (Unpublished)

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Background: Social prescribing is rapidly developing in Australia in response to unmet social needs. Its overarching aim is to link people to community services and social activities to reduce loneliness and social isolation that have been further exacerbated through the COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns.

Aims & Methods: This research aimed to understand whether social prescribing improves loneliness, wellbeing, and physical health in Queenslanders through a longitudinal analysis of 63 social prescribing clients compared to 51 patients who were frequent attenders at their GP. We also utilised interviews with 15 service providers (link workers) and 15 social prescribing clients to understand how social prescribing works and how we can better support link workers in their roles. This work was carried out across the COVID-19 Pandemic, beginning in March 2020 and ending in April 2023.

Longitudinal Results: Clients were supported to join a variety of groups and increased their social networks over the 18-month period. In only 8-weeks of social prescription, participants showed significant improvement in loneliness and trust in others that were not reflected in the comparison group. At 18 months social prescribing participants showed further improvements in feelings of loneliness, psychological distress, and perceived overall health. Further, the quality of the link worker-client relationship and having a group facilitator able to create a sense of belonging to groups, were both associated with improved outcomes across all domains at 18-months - loneliness, wellbeing, psychological distress, trust, and health.

Interview Results: Social prescribing was seen to work through several processes: (1) breaking down barriers that interfere with social connection, such as addressing social anxiety; (2) finding groups where clients ‘fit’ with others; and (3) rebuilding clients’ sense of self after disconnection from community.

Link workers saw relationship building as one of the key skills in their role. They felt a sense of fulfilment from what they were able to accomplish with clients as well as their work increasing awareness of loneliness and strengthening community connections. However, precarious funding and limited support around many link workers, who often worked in silo, contributed to a sense of overwhelming workload and a risk of burnout and high turnover.

Where to from here: Social prescribing is effective in addressing loneliness and meeting social needs among community dwelling adults in metropolitan areas. The characteristics of our sample suggest that more efforts are needed to increase reach and equity in referral processes. More promotion of social prescribing and more training and support for link workers is also needed for ongoing sustainability of this new health pathway.

Item Type: Research report for external body
Description: Commissioning Body: Australian Research Council
Creators: Sharman, L.S., Hayes, S., Chua, D., Haslam, C., Cruwys, T., Jetten, J., Haslam, S.A., McNamara, N., Baker, J.R., Johnson, T. and Dingle, G.
Publisher: The University of Queensland
Place of Publication: Queensland
Date: 4 September 2023
Divisions: Schools > School of Social Sciences
Record created by: Linda Sullivan
Date Added: 07 Sep 2023 13:16
Last Modified: 07 Sep 2023 13:16

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