Peer and community support

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National Voices and NESTA have published evidence that peer support can help people feel more knowledgeable, confident and happy and less isolated and alone.  We explore what peer support is, whether it can really deliver benefits and how it can be implemented.

People with long term conditions spend only around 3-7 hours a year with their health and care professionals, leaving 8757 hours during which they manage their wellbeing in other ways.  Unlike health services, peer and community support can often be available to people ‘on demand’ when they need it, and is usually ‘open access’ so people can choose to access support that meets their own needs and preferences.

What is peer and community support?

‘Peer support is about empathy, not sympathy. It’s about using shared experiences to help each other make sense of challenges, build resilience and find solutions,’ says Natalie Koussa, who leads the Wellbeing Our Way programme at National Voices.  In her blog Peer support: a force for social change? Natalie argues that peer support meets needs that clinical services alone cannot, and that it can give people the confidence to make and sustain changes in their lives. Read more about what peer and community support is.

Do we need it?

As well as losing the skills and confidence to self-manage over time, people with long-term conditions and their carers often experience other challenges, such as social isolation, that have an impact on their health.  In her article setting out the benefits of peer support and some of the approaches to providing it, Tracey Neithercott argues that peer support empowers people with long term conditions to take steps towards improving their own health, as well as improving people’s quality of life and reducing depression. Read the article Peer support helps with diabetes control

How can we implement it?

‘The healthcare system is very focused on clinical services,’ says Julie Fenner, an independent consultant working in person-centred care, ‘but most of the time people are managing their own health.  Peer and community support should be seen as part of the care pathway and included in the overall package of care and support available to people with long term conditions.’ Download ACHMA and Optum’s Peer services toolkit with practical information to develop peer support

Recommended resources

What is peer support?

This brief three and a half minute video features a series of patients, health professionals and others setting out why peer support works in helping people with long term conditions and its benefits.

Peer support workers: theory and practice

This briefing paper sets out a definition of peer support, the different forms it can take, the principles that underpin it and the benefits.  Although focused on mental health, it will be useful to audiences beyond mental health.

Peer support: What is it and does it work?

This report summarises evidence from more than 1000 studies of peer support.  It sets out what peer support is, who is involved, the different types of support that can be offered, ways it can be provided, where it might be made available and when it might be offered.  It sets out the evidence for the effectiveness of different kinds of peer support in relation to people's experience and emotions, changes in behaviour and health outcomes and changes in service usage and cost.

People Helping People: Peer support that changes lives

This report brings together practical learning and evidence on four models of peer support: activity based peer support, one-to-one support, befriending, and locality based peer support organised around a community hub or neighbourhood.

View all resources relating to peer support.















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