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  Understanding how GPs see their role and capacity to use social prescribing to improve work outcomes for patients with long-term health conditions.

   Division of Health Research

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  Dr P Holland, Dr N Fisher, Prof J Goodacre  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

Social prescribing is the referral of individuals with health problems to non-medical services provided by the voluntary and community sector, such as debt counselling, support groups and exercise classes.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. Evaluations demonstrate social prescribing can reduce social isolation, anxiety, depression and healthcare usage.2

There is significant inequity between 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.

The gap: 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. 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.

Relevance to policy and practice: The PhD study will be located in Clinical Commissioning Groups in the North West Coast CLAHRC that have implemented social prescribing7 (Lancashire North CCG has already expressed interest).

Potential research approaches and skills that will be developed through the PhD:
Individual interviews will be conducted with a) GPs based in a range of practices and delivering varying models of social prescribing, and b) patients with a range of long-term conditions to explore:

• GPs’ perspectives on social prescribing and the new expectations it places on them to address the wider social determinants of health.
• GPs’ willingness to uptake referrals to non-medical services and barriers in doing so.
• Recipients’ perspectives and experiences of social prescribing.

Successful applicants will be able to demonstrate in their application:
• Enthusiasm for taking a health research approach to issues that are happening in organisations
• Able to work independently with the guidance of the supervision team
• Identify what skills or experiences will support their development as a researcher
• Have good time and data management
• Willingness to listen sensitively to GPs and patients experiences of long term health conditions

Supervisory Team: Dr Paula Holland, Dr Naomi Fisher, Professor John Goodacre. With expert input from Dr Simon Wetherell (GP; Lancashire North Clinical Commissioning Group). Paula, Naomi and John are based at Lancaster University in the faculty of Health and Medicine.

Informal enquires about the project should be made directly to Dr Paula Holland. Applications are made by completing an application for PhD Health Research October 2017 through our online application system. Closing date, midnight 3rd April 2017.

Funding Notes

Awards are available for UK or EU students only for a maximum of three years full-time study. Awards will cover University Fees and Doctoral Stipend (2017-2018: £14,553).


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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