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In this blog, Stephanie Tierney outlines a new study she is leading on the experiences of link workers in their job and retention of them within their role.

Social prescribing link workers are employed, often in primary care, to support a variety of non-medical problems that can affect people’s well-being; from housing and money worries, to relationship difficulties or feeling a lack of purpose in life. This calls for a range of skills and knowledge, and a good understanding of local support and services to connect people to as part of a social prescription. It also requires a communication style that enables people to open up – giving them the permission, space and sense of safety to describe difficulties they are facing in life.

Conversations we have had with link workers, for various projects, suggest their job can be rewarding, but at times it can be draining and difficult. This may be especially the case if they feel they have not had appropriate training or sufficient supervision. Furthermore, link workers have mentioned they are receiving increasingly complex cases (people with a range of non-medical needs), and that there is a growing demand for their service (affecting their capacity to spend time with individuals). This puts them at a risk of reduced job satisfaction and burnout. It may then lead to these employees quitting their post. In previous research on this topic, of link workers completing a questionnaire (n=279) sent out by the National Association of Link Workers, almost a third were considering leaving their role due to lack of support/supervision.

We were interested in learning more about how link workers experience their job, and how to best assist them in this role, which is still relatively new in many primary care settings. We were successful in receiving funding from the NIHR School for Primary Care Research to run a study on this topic. It is a mixed methods study; we will collect quantitative data in the form of a questionnaire that link workers will be invited to complete, followed by interviews with a sub-sample of questionnaire respondents.

We are in the early stages of this project. We have constructed the online questionnaire and secured ethics approval. We are in the process of piloting the questionnaire so it is ready to be sent to link workers to complete during October and November 2023. Interviews will then be conducted in 2024. We will be holding meetings to discuss this project, with our patient-public involvement group and an advisory group, in the autumn. It is anticipated that findings from this study will enable us to develop recommendations that can be applied to practice and/or policy to improve the work experience of link workers and to increase their retention.

A protocol for the study can be found here


The study mentioned in this blog is funded by a grant from NIHR School for Primary Care Research (Award 678). The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the funder or the author’s host institution.