Social prescribing during the COVID-19 pandemic: a qualitative study of service providers’ and clients’ experiences

Stephanie Morris*, Kate Gibson, Josephine M. Wildman, Bethan Griffith, Suzanne Moffatt, Tessa M. Pollard

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)
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COVID-19 public health restrictions, such as social distancing and self-isolation, have been particularly challenging for vulnerable people with health conditions and/or complex social needs. Link worker social prescribing is widespread in the UK and elsewhere and is regarded as having the potential to provide support to vulnerable people during the pandemic. This qualitative study explores accounts of how an existing social prescribing service adapted to meet clients’ needs in the first wave of the pandemic, and of how clients experienced these changes.

Data were collected in a deprived urban area of North East England via remote interviews with clients (n = 44), link workers (n = 5) and service provider managerial staff (n = 8) from May–September 2020. Thematic data analysis was conducted.

The research found that service providers quickly adapted to remote intervention delivery aiming to serve existing clients and other vulnerable groups. Service providers experienced improved access to some existing clients via telephone in the first months of remote delivery and in some cases were able to engage clients who had previously not attended appointments at GP surgeries. However, link workers also experienced challenges in building rapport with clients, engaging clients with the aims of the intervention and providing a service to digitally excluded people. Limited link worker capacity meant clients experienced variable contact with link workers with only some experiencing consistent support that was highly valued for helping to manage their conditions and mental wellbeing. Limited access to linked services also adversely affected clients. Clients living in less affluent circumstances and/or with worse health were more likely to experience negative impacts on their long-term condition. Some found their health and progress with social prescribing was ‘on hold’ or ‘going backwards’, which sometimes negatively affected their health.

Social prescribing offered valued support to some during the pandemic, but remote support sometimes had limited impact for clients and findings highlight the vulnerability of social prescribing’s success when linked services are disrupted. Findings also show the need for more to be done in the upscaling of social prescribing to provide support to digitally excluded populations.
Original languageEnglish
Article number258
Number of pages13
JournalBMC Health Services Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 25 Feb 2022
Externally publishedYes


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