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We are fortunate to have a dedicated PPI group for our NIHR funded project on the link worker role (NIHR130247), composed of the following 6 people:

  • Craig Atkinson
  • Maria Clark
  • Bernard Gudgin
  • Francoise Holland
  • Tony Meacock
  • Pauline Roberts

We meet around every 3-4 months but have email communication in-between meetings. Members of the group comment on our emerging data and our thoughts on this information. Our PPI group members have offered advice on relevant research processes (e.g. participant information sheets to be given to patients, questions to be asked in interviews). Later they will support us in disseminating findings to a wide audience, in an easy to understand way. Here is a summary of some of the things we have covered to date.

29th September 2021 – Meeting 1 (online)

We introduced the project to the PPI members. We discussed the issue of people not really going to see GPs face-to-face due to COVID. This raised the question of how a health professional would pick up that someone could benefit from seeing a link worker. There was a lot of conversation about how to communicate the link worker role to patients. It was felt that some people would prefer face-to-face meetings rather than online. We agreed on some Terms of Reference for the group.


20th January 2022 – Meeting 2 (online)

We were able to provide some early details about the initial data from our first two cases (link workers). Members of the group were not surprised that patients involved in our research had not heard of the term ‘social prescribing’ and did not understand what link workers did or who they were for; they felt there was a lack of communication about this topic to the public. The group reflected on a potential disconnect between social prescribing appointments taking place in a clinical treatment room or in a doctor’s surgery with a link worker’s focus on non-medical issues. They queried whether providing a ‘listening ear’ was the most important thing that a link worker did for people. Concern was expressed about how far link workers strayed into counselling and whether this should be part of their remit. It was felt that if there were no defined boundaries in what a link worker did, they could be pulled in a number of directions or be asked to do things they were not skilled to undertake. It was felt that a clearer, more prescribed definition of the role might be important for patients to understand how link workers could help them.

After the meeting, members of the group had the opportunity to provide further feedback on an online platform where we posed the following questions for them to consider:

  • Surprising or interesting things: Things I have learnt about social prescribing through our PPI meetings.
  • Ways to improve social prescribing: From what we have learnt so far about social prescribing, are there ways it could be improved for people who see a link worker, or for link workers themselves?
  • Things we need to know more about: Further things we need to look at, or ask questions about, as we move forward with the study.


11th May 2022 – Meeting 3 (online)

At this meeting, the PPI group discussed the possibility of producing a blog about the project and their involvement in it. We decided that we would try and do this at a future in-person meeting. There was a lot of discussion about who such a blog would be for and what we would hope to communicate to the audience through it. We presented some further data from the project. This led to the group talking about how to ensure that a link worker feels part of a team in primary care; this was felt to be important for them to do their job well but it was acknowledged that the ‘soft stuff’ of team building and communication is not prioritised in all settings. How far link workers should strive to ‘fit in’ to the medical environment was considered. We also discussed the issue of the best ways for link workers to reach people from minority ethnic groups.