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The Power of Peer Support

What we have learned from the Centre for Social Action Innovation Fund

With an estimated one in four people living with long-term conditions and/or one diagnosable mental health problem in any given year, small tweaks to the health system simply won’t be enough. What we need is a fundamental rethink of the way we approach health and care services - putting people in the lead, making better use of community resources and building in co-production at every level. That’s why we think peer support is so important, because it enables people to share their experiences and support each other as equals and in ways that build resilience and address what matters most to people in their everyday lives.

‘Peer support in health and care encompasses a range of approaches through which people with similar long-term conditions or experiences support each other in order to better understand the condition and aid recovery or self management’.

Peer support has the potential to increase people’s confidence, mood and wellbeing - and ultimately health - while improving care, delivering better outcomes and reducing costs to the NHS. For those in a caring role, peer support also has the potential to provide the emotional and practical support that is often needed to prevent carer breakdown. Peer support involves people drawing on shared personal experience or characteristics to help one another, often in a way that is mutually beneficial. There is also new research that shows that peer support is an effective mechanism to improve the outcomes of ‘hardly reached’ groups - which includes, for example, those with low income or education, ethnic minorities, and those troubled by psychosocial distress. It is also important to note that there is existing research3 on inclusion, equality and other practical considerations for engaging ‘hardly reached’ communities, which is valuable to consider.