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Implementation and impact of a social prescribing intervention: an ethnographic exploration

Pollard, Tessa; Gibson, Kate; Griffith, Bethan; Jeffries, Jayne; Moffatt, Suzanne

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Kate Gibson

Bethan Griffith

Jayne Jeffries

Suzanne Moffatt


Background: Social prescribing involves referral of patients from primary care to link workers, who work with them to access appropriate local voluntary and community sector services. Aim: Our aim was to explore how a social prescribing intervention was delivered by link workers and the experiences of those referred to the intervention. Design and Setting: We used ethnographic methods to conduct a process evaluation of a social prescribing intervention delivered to support those living with long-term conditions in an economically deprived urban area. Method: We used participant observation, shadowing, interviews and focus groups to examine the experiences and practices of 20 link workers and 19 clients over a period of 19 months. Results: Social prescribing provided significant help for some people living with long-term health conditions. However, link workers experienced challenges in embedding social prescribing in an established primary care and voluntary sector landscape. The organisations providing social prescribing drew on broader social discourses emphasising personal responsibility for health, which encouraged a drift towards an approach that emphasised empowerment for lifestyle change more than intensive support. Pressures to complete assessments, required for funding, also encouraged a drift to this lighter touch approach. A focus on individual responsibility was helpful for some clients, but had limited capacity to improve the circumstances or health of those living in the most disadvantaged circumstances. Conclusion: We conclude that careful consideration of how social prescribing is implemented within primary care is required if it is to provide the support needed by those living in disadvantaged circumstances.


Pollard, T., Gibson, K., Griffith, B., Jeffries, J., & Moffatt, S. (2023). Implementation and impact of a social prescribing intervention: an ethnographic exploration. British Journal of General Practice,

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Apr 4, 2023
Online Publication Date Jul 11, 2023
Publication Date 2023
Deposit Date Apr 17, 2023
Publicly Available Date Jun 21, 2023
Journal British Journal of General Practice
Print ISSN 0960-1643
Electronic ISSN 1478-5242
Publisher Royal College of General Practitioners
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Public URL


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