GPs are brilliant at telling us 'what' we need to do, peer supporters can show us 'how'

A recent study from Cambridge University tells us that we, as Brits, are spending less time with our GPs compared to people living in the USA, Canada, and Sweden. In fact, the average appointment time for GP consultations is a mere 9.22 minutes, and this may actually be impeding on our ability to effectively manage our increasingly complex needs and multimorbidities within primary care.  

If we were to assume that the mean number of consultations with a GP in the UK is 3.23 per year (a figure taken from a previous study), that means we are spending approximately 30 minutes with a GP every year, leaving us to manage ‘on our own’ for 8,761 hours each year. Let’s say that again: we are ‘on our own’ for 8,761 hours every year and in that time we need to ensure that we are managing our health, eating healthily, doing our exercise, managing our stress and anxiety, ensuring that we are getting enough sleep, etc.

That’s a lot to ask for, particularly, if we are vulnerable or not at our healthiest, or if we don’t have family or a support system around us.

So how can we navigate the complexities around our ‘on our own’ hours, in order to create health and wellbeing?

As social beings, we inherently need connections and social support. At Nesta, we have always believed in the power of peer support as a way to manage our health and happiness, and as Professor Fisher from Peers for Progress has noted in the past, whilst GPs are brilliant at telling us ‘what’ we need to do, peer supporters are in a great position to show us ‘how’ to do it. By leveraging lived experience, peer supporters can be great navigators and show us how we can live better with our conditions, in the context of our everyday lives.

It’s encouraging to see that peer support has been been in the spotlight recently through different initiatives including:

  • The Cities Changing Diabetes programme - an exciting multi-year, global initiative that is accelerating the fight against urban diabetes by addressing social and cultural determinants of health. The cities involved in the programme are testing a number of people and community centred interventions - including working with Peers for Progress on testing different models of community peer support - with the goal of reducing diabetes' prevalence around the globe. We’re exciting to see peer support being promoted in this way, and hope that our work on consolidating the evidence base, and making the case for peer support through our Realising the Value programme will be helpful.
  • Peerfest - a fantastic celebration of peer support, particularly in mental health. I had the privilege of attending Peerfest 2017 where I learned about some great peer support practices such as the Wellbeans group, heard about the growing evidence base for peer support including the recent Side by Side programme results, and brainstormed ideas to address the barriers of delivering peer support - some of which, particularly issues around access, and evidence, are the focus of the Health Foundation’s Q Lab work. I also heard from the audience about ways funders can improve their funding of peer support projects, which included ensuring that we give projects enough time to set-up and deliver peer support services, and striking a balance between how much we ask projects to ‘prove’ vs ‘improve’. This feedback confirms our approach on the Accelerating Ideas programme - a partnership with the Big Lottery Fund - with its five-year timeline, and strong focus on knowledge and learning.
  • Through Nesta’s Accelerating Ideas programme, we are supporting the Stroke Association and the British Lung Foundation to grow their peer support networks across the UK. We are thrilled to have the commitment and ambition of these two organisations, as we continue to build a robust evidence base and learn through their scaling efforts so that more people can benefit from their crucial support services. The programme has a particular focus on learning; learning about impact, how we can better reach different communities, and how to ensure quality across all services - a particular challenge that was raised at Peerfest and the Cities Changing Diabetes Summit.  We're also seeing if we can find a strong correlation between peer support, engagement 'contact time' and health outcomes. For instance, the British Lung Foundation are testing the impact of adding new weekly activity sessions, to run alongside their monthly peer support groups with regular engagement with specialist nurses. As well, the Stroke Association are testing to see the impact of integrating their digital self management tool - available anytime self-management support is required - with their regular group peer support offer. Our hypothesis is that this increased engagement will improve outcomes.

With access to support from our peers, in the community, and on a regular basis, we can start to bend the curve on how much time we spend ‘on our own’ in a way that improves our health and wellbeing, and gives us a connection to others who are ‘similar to me’.

In some ways, connecting people together is not only an important way for people to share advice on what it’s like to live with an experience or condition, but it also gives people a chance to meet a deep and natural need in all of us - the need to connect with others.

"People don’t always need advice. Sometimes all they really need is a hand to hold, an ear to listen, and a heart to understand them” Anonymous


Jullie Tran Graham

Jullie Tran Graham

Jullie Tran Graham

Programme Manager

Jullie worked with a number of health and ageing projects funded through the Accelerating Ideas programme, focusing on social innovations that make it possible for people to be more in…

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