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Over the last two months, the Q Lab has been focusing on how to pull together what is known about peer support in the UK, to help address our challenge: what would it take for peer support to be available to everyone who may want it, to help them to manage their long-term health and wellbeing needs.

Anyone who is involved in this field will know this was a big task and a very short amount of time.

To start with, there is no recognised definition of peer support, and it can take a number of different forms – ranging from free-form online communities, to face-to-face support groups, structured programmes, and employed peer workers who are part of multi-disciplinary health care teams.

The Lab is not a research institute and instead our aim was to build on the existing knowledge and evidence. This was supplemented with ethnographic interviews to understand people’s insights and experiences of peer support, to help understand the issues from a range of perspectives.

Four challenge areas

We have identified four, broad challenge areas within peer support that are particularly pertinent. These are areas where we feel there are some specific challenges that the Lab participants can discuss and unpick, in order to identify some opportunities for us to explore this year.

Access

This area covers issues around how people access peer support. Our research has shown that one of the challenges is how people know what peer support services are available. This also connects to issues around how health care services, social care services and the voluntary and community sector work together.

There were also questions raised about how peer support services address cultural diversity in our communities and ensure that people from different backgrounds and experiences are able to find peers who they identify with.

Culture and buy-in

This area focused on the different perspectives on peer support services, from the points of view of the public, health care professionals and the wider health and care system. There are challenges around how best to integrate peer support workers into existing health care services. There are also challenges about how peer support is perceived and valued by policy makers and commissioners, and people who may be able to influence more widespread change and implementation.

There are questions raised about whether the ethos of peer support is fundamentally different from the predominant medical model used within services, and how this could be seen as a benefit rather than creating conflict.

Evidence

This area looks at the evidence of impact of peer support. We know from our work with Nesta and other partners in Realising the Value last year that peer support is one of the person-centred approaches that has the strongest evidence base. This is both about the way it’s valued by individuals and the economic case about overall effectiveness and value for money. Part of our research was trying to understand why some of this evidence is known but hasn’t yet led to peer support becoming a core part of health and care services. There are also issues around the best evaluation metrics that people can use to understand the impact and success of their services.

Workforce

This area looks at some of the workforce challenges in peer support, focusing on the view point of peer support workers and the health care professionals they may be working alongside. There is evidence that peer support is of benefit to both the person who is being supported, and the person providing the support. There are also challenges around how best to recruit, train and support peer support workers, and issues around how they stay true to their identities once embedded in a specific team or organisational culture. In terms of online peer support, there are challenges around how to monitor online communities to ensure they are place people can receive supportive advice and information, that doesn’t contravene any important information on medication or treatment.

How the research will be used

We have produced four short briefing papers on each of the challenge areas.

If you’re involved or interested in peer support we’d love to know what you think. What issues do you think are most important, and where would be a good place for the Lab to focus our work for the rest of this year?

We will be using these briefing papers at the Q Lab workshop on 13-14 July. We’ll be hoping to unpick some of the issues in more detail, in order to identify areas where the Lab can do some development or testing work over the summer and autumn.

If you aren’t coming along to the workshop and you’d like to follow what’s happening there will be a live blog on this site and we’ll be tweeting @theQCommunity #QLabs. Please do join the conversation.


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