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Improving employment outcomes for people with long-term health conditions: the role of GPs and social prescribing.

Project Description

Social prescribing is the referral of individuals from primary care to non-medical services provided by the voluntary and community sector, such as debt counselling, support groups and exercise classes, to improve their health and wellbeing.1 Most social prescribing referrals are made for people with mental health problems or long-term conditions. By addressing the social determinants of ill health, social prescribing seeks to improve health outcomes, address health inequalities and reduce demand on the NHS. Although most evaluations have been small scale, there is evidence that social prescribing can reduce social isolation, anxiety, depression and healthcare usage.2

There is significant inequity between the employment rates of people with and without disabilities/long-term conditions3. A recent report recommends clinicians should make greater use of social prescribing to help people with disabilities/long-term conditions stay in or return-to-work, and that social prescribing can improve work outcomes directly through referral to employment support services, or indirectly by improving health outcomes4. However, although the government has suggested social prescribing becomes “as normal a part of GPs’ job as medical prescribing”,5 GPs have voiced concerns social prescribing increases their workload6. Using social prescribing as a tool to support job retention or return-to-work for people with long-term conditions requires GPs to expand their existing remit beyond sickness certification and to engage more fully with employment issues.

The aims of this studentship are to explore:
1) GPs’ perspectives on social prescribing and the expectations it places on them to address the wider social determinants of health;
2) GPs’ willingness to uptake referrals to non-medical services and barriers in doing so;
3) Recipients’ perspectives and experiences of social prescribing, particularly in the context of worklessness, or where health conditions increase their risk of job loss.

Candidates should have a 2.1 or 1st class degree in a relevant discipline. A Master’s degree in a relevant discipline would be an advantage.

Expressions of interest should be made to Professor Jennie Popay including a covering letter, copy of your CV and contact details for two referees.

Funding Notes

This is a fully funded studentship, including tuition fees, an annual tax-free stipend of £14,777 ( index-linked) and contribution towards research and training costs. It is linked to the Liverpool and Lancaster Universities Collaboration for Public Health Research (LiLaC), which is part of the National Institute for Health Research School for Public Health Research (SPHR). Three other fully-funded studentships are being advertised by LiLaC at the same time, on different aspects of inequalities in health. All PhD studentships appointed by LiLaC will have access to development and support opportunities through the NIHR Trainees Coordinating Centre and Academy.


1. Friedli L, Jackson C, Abernethy H, Stansfield J. (n.d.) Social prescribing for mental health – a guide to commissioning and delivery. Care Services Improvement Partnership NW Development Centre.
2. Thomson LJ, Camic PM, Chatterjee HJ. (2015) Social prescribing: a review of community referral schemes. University College London.
3. Work and Pensions Select Committee. (2016)
4. Steadman K, Thomas R, Donnaloja V. (2017). Social prescribing: a pathway to work? The Work Foundation.
5. NHS England. (2015) Building the Workforce – the New Deal for General Practice.
6. Roberts N. (2015) Analysis: What does social prescribing mean for GPs? Available at:
7. Jackson G. (2016) Social prescribing at a glance: North West England. Health Education England.

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