Putting it into practice: peer support and community assets

People with long-term health conditions and their carers often experience further challenges that have an impact on their health, such as social isolation. There is an increasing body of evidence demonstrating the benefits of peer support and community groups in combating isolation and helping people sustain their knowledge, confidence and skills over time.,

The key types of peer and community support are as follows:

  • Encouraging and enabling self-management behaviours. This type of support enables people to learn new skills or share practical experiences in ways that create mutual support between people with similar problems. It helps people to develop and maintain the skills and motivation they need to manage their health in the context of their everyday life. Examples include walking groups or condition-specific support groups.
  • Providing social and emotional support. This type of support may or may not centre on peers with similar experiences or conditions, but can normalise the rollercoaster of emotions that living with a long-term health condition entails. Examples include online forums or lunch clubs.
  • Supporting people to address wider social and lifestyle aspects of their health. This type of support can help people develop health behaviours, reduce isolation, develop a sense of belonging, and cope with some of the broader social determinants of health. Examples include craft classes and advice on employment and finances.

All of this support can be provided by people with long-term health conditions, in volunteer or peer roles, which can also have a positive and direct impact on their own health and self-management confidence.

Peer and community support is beneficial because it can:

  • help people to maintain the knowledge, skills and confidence to self-manage
  • be available to people ‘on demand’, when they need it
  • support non-clinical aspects of health, such as loneliness and confidence
  • be tailored, so people can access support for what is important to them and suits them.

To get the best out of peer and community support, there needs to be a wide and appropriate range of support available to people, that is routinely integrated into the health care system and care pathways. Approaches often include providing a single point of access to a range of options, such as the examples below.

  • Social prescribing – the health care professional and person identify together the type of activities that will be of benefit, with the professional writing a ‘prescription’ directly to a service or referring the individual to an intermediary, such as a link worker, with whom a package of services can be constructed.
  • Signposting – this acts as a bridge between health care professionals and the social activities available, and can be done by a variety of people including health trainers, wellbeing coaches, navigators, and voluntary community services networks.

Further reading

I have never had a patient tell me medicine changed their life. Ollie Hart, C4CC

A blog by a GP discussing the impact of peer and community support for their patients http://coalitionforcollaborativecare.org.uk/gp/i-have-never-had-a-patient-tell-me-medicine-changed-their-life/

More Than Medicine. Nesta.

A detailed report on social interventions that complement clinical care www.nesta.org.uk/sites/default/files/more_than_medicine.pdf

Developing the power of strong inclusive communities. Think Local Act Personal.

Background to community development and support www.thinklocalactpersonal.org.uk/_library/Resources/BCC/Report/TLAP_Developing_the_Power_Brochure_FINAL.pdf

Peers For Progress

International organisation promoting best practice in peer support http://peersforprogress.org/

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