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An Exploration and Evaluation of the Practice of Social Prescribing (SP) in a Rural Area

Project Description

This is an exciting opportunity for a PhD student to explore a fast- moving area of practice within a local NHS system. This is a real chance to contribute to a national evidence gap as well as to influence the development of local delivery. SP has been variably defined and implemented over time and across the country but has had a relatively weak evidence base. This lack of evidence is of particular note at a time when government policy has prioritised its implementation, as part of the 10 Year Plan for the NHS. The planned research will enable an in-depth understanding of the practice and impact of SP within Worcestershire and will focus on a rural area within this county. SP relies on a network of voluntary and community sector organisations to which prescribers can refer, and the nature/ strength of these in smaller rural settlements is contested. The successful student will have the opportunity to work with local professionals from the NHS and the County Council Public Health team and will build a good understanding of the application of research in practice. Members of the University Supervisory Team have expertise in geography, social science, and public health, and one has held a leadership role in the development of SP locally. Applicants should hold a master’s level qualification.

The Practice of Social Prescribing (SP) in a Rural Area
This is an important and exciting moment for the better understanding of the practice and impact of social prescribing. A range of initiatives are in place nationally with a growing awareness of the potential of non-medical interventions to improve the lives of people who are frequent users of health services. Until now, it has been noted that, without much in the way of ‘top-down’ instruction from national bodies, social prescribing has emerged organically ‘from the bottom up’” (Polley 2017) and that there has been a linked paucity of robust evidence as to impact. However, there have been cautious, if weakly evidenced, grounds for optimism, with a consensus that stronger evidence is needed (Brandling 2009). It appears clear from a qualitative perspective that patients and medical professionals speak positively about SP interventions, but that the evidence on cost and outcome remains undeveloped (Grant, 2000; Bickerdike et al. 2016.)
There is thus an urgent need for research which can consider the conceptualisation, practice and impact of social prescribing. Worcestershire was an early adopter of social prescribing in general practice, with co-funded pilots using the local authority Public Health Ring-fenced Grant and NHS general practice innovation money. At the same time, new funding is being released from NHS England to systematise and increase the use of social prescribing nationally. This creates an exciting opportunity to conduct a mixed methods study, with the potential to include:
• Analysis of NHS data to consider pre and post intervention service utilisation quantitatively
• Qualitative evaluation of patient experience
• Qualitative process evaluation from the point of view of referring staff, social prescribers, and the VCS organisations to which patients are referred.

This studentship will build new knowledge and understanding of the impact of social prescribing in practice, at a time when it has been given a place at the heart of the new NHS. Recommendations will inform evidence- based decision making in general practice, linking investment to patient experience and outcome.

Funding Notes

During the period of your studentship you will receive the following:
• a tax free bursary of £15,009 for a period of 3 years
• a fee-waiver for 4 years
• a budget to support your project costs for the first 3 years of the project
• a laptop
• use of the Research Student Study Space in the Research School

You will play an active role in the life of both the Research School and of the School. You will be given opportunities to gain experience in learning and teaching under the guidance of your Director of Studies.


A list of references and further reading is available on the full advert:

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