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Sometimes you just need to talk to someone who ‘gets it’.

The doctors try their best, the care workers are friendly, and friends have been great at helping out, but you just want to speak with someone who has lived ‘it’ themselves.

That’s peer support, and we will be launching a new online Hub to boost its development.

How does it work?

Peer support involves people drawing on shared personal experience to provide knowledge, social interaction, emotional assistance or practical help to each other, often in a way that is mutually beneficial. An example is people with specific health conditions meeting to share experiences and talk about what works for them.

It can take lots of different forms, such as informal telephone calls, group get-togethers, online forums or structured training offered by paid peers in partnership with professionals.

Importantly, peer support is different from other types of support because the source of the support is a similar person with relevant experience.

Does it work?

In 2015 National Voices and Nesta published an evidence paper summarising more than 1,000 studies into peer support.

We found that peer support has the potential to improve experience, psycho-social outcomes, behaviour, health outcomes and service use among people with long-term physical and mental health conditions. The studies also showed that peer support can improve experience and emotional aspects for carers.

The benefits are being recognised by policymakers too. NHS England’s Five Year Forward View refers to peer support as one of the ‘slow burn, high impact’ interventions that should be seen as ‘essential’ to the future of the NHS.

So we’ve got the evidence, we’ve got enthusiasm from the top, what’s the problem?

Less positively, our review found that there is a limited understanding of the different forms of peer support, how best to deliver support and the forms of training and infrastructure to get the most impact from it.

Finding the evidence

From April 2017 to March 2018, the Q Improvement Lab (Q Lab) has been getting to grips with the not-so-small question of how to make peer support available to everyone who wants it. One of the Lab’s focus areas has been why, despite the evidence for it, peer support hasn’t yet become a core part of health and care services.

It became very apparent that the multitude of resources and evidence papers for peer support are scattered across the internet and that finding relevant high quality materials is an arduous and often impossible task.

So we hatched a plan.

What if we could create a trusted and authoritative online hub that would collate, curate and categorise the plethora of evidence and tools?

National Voices, the Q Lab, Mind and Positively UK set about scoping the idea. We surveyed 150 people who are involved in developing peer support programmes and 97% supported the idea of a Peer Support Hub. Over 40% said that their number one problem was that peer support information is inaccessible, hard to find and there is too much to sift through.

We delved a bit deeper in subsequent workshops. We found people want easy access to high quality academic literature as well as ‘grey’ literature. We also found demand for a mixture of formally collated content, and user uploaded content.

The Peer Support Hub

Today marks the beginning of the design and build of that online Peer Support Hub.

Thanks to help from the Q Lab, National Voices will develop and host the Hub.

We’ve got to this stage by engaging with a wide range of people involved and interested in peer support, and we are going to carry on in that vein.

So if you think the Peer Support Hub sounds like a good idea or you are one of the many people scouring the web for information and resources, then sign up to the Peer Support Hub newsletter to get involved in its development.

Through the Peer Support Hub we are aiming to boost the development of peer support programmes across the country. In doing so, we hope to give everyone the opportunity to benefit from speaking to someone who really ‘gets it’.

Andrew McCracken is Head of Communications at National Voices.

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