PHWO Social prescribing evidence map: technical report

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Public Health Wales NHS Trust

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This evidence map looks at social prescribing and explored the question “How, why and in what circumstances might targeted, non-clinical interventions, services or programmes benefit the health and well-being of individuals and families with social, emotional or practical needs?”

Two main types of social prescribing initiative were identified. The first of these were those predominantly targeting psychosocial needs. Such initiatives included link worker programmes (schemes linking people to a facilitator who assessed them and referred them on to sources of support in the community), community arts programmes, a horticultural programme and referral to welfare rights advice. The research evidence base for these programmes is largely characterised by before-and-after evaluations without comparison groups. This means that it is not possible to draw conclusions about effectiveness using the current evidence base. Evidence derived from experience designing and implementing these initiatives suggests these programmes may be useful in reducing the impact of loneliness and social isolation, and in improving participant mental well-being. However, caveats around interpreting this kind evidence do not allow identification of groups or individuals who would benefit most, nor elucidate which interventions would yield the greatest benefit.

The second type of intervention includes exercise referral schemes and commercial weight loss programmes, primarily intended for those who are sedentary and/or overweight or obese. The evidence base for commercial weight loss programmes and exercise referral schemes is largely characterised by evaluations using a control group, so it is possible to answer questions about their short-term impact on measures such as weight, physical activity, physical health, quality of life and mental well-being. Uptake of referral and adherence to programmes is an issue for both exercise referral and weight loss programmes, but more so for exercise programmes. As the available evidence does not explore the reasons for this, it is not possible to know which groups may benefit the most from which type of exercise. For those considering implementation of a new social prescribing initiative in Wales, exercise referral programmes do offer the greatest quantity of reference material to inform intervention design, although this may not equate to a higher quality of evidence.

Evidence Type: Systematic Review

Main Focus: Wellbeing / Quality of life

Research Purpose: Discussion / Debate

Participant Group: Adults

Art Forms: Multi-Arts

Access Type: Free Download