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Preparing the prescription: a review of the aim and measurement of social referral programmes
  1. Emily S Rempel1,
  2. Emma N Wilson1,
  3. Hannah Durrant2,
  4. Julie Barnett1,2
  1. 1Department of Psychology, University of Bath, Bath, UK
  2. 2Institute for Policy Research, University of Bath, Bath, UK
  1. Correspondence to Emily S Rempel; e.s.rempel{at}


Objective Our aim is to review, and qualitatively evaluate, the aims and measures of social referral programmes. Our first objective is to identify the aims of social referral initiatives. Our second objective is to identify the measures used to evaluate whether the aims of social referral were met.

Design Literature review.

Background Social referral programmes, also called social prescribing and emergency case referral, link primary and secondary healthcare with community services, often under the guise of decreasing health system costs.

Method Following the PRISMA guidelines, we undertook a literature review to address that aim. We searched in five academic online databases and in one online non-academic search engine, including both academic and grey literature, for articles referring to ‘social prescribing’ or ‘community referral’.

Results We identified 41 relevant articles and reports. After extracting the aims, measures and type of study, we found that most social referral programmes aimed to address a wide variety of system and individual health problems. This included cost savings, resource reallocation and improved mental, physical and social well-being. Across the 41 studies and reports, there were 154 different kinds of measures or methods of evaluation identified. Of these, the most commonly used individual measure was the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well-being Scale, used in nine studies and reports.

Conclusions These inconsistencies in aims and measures used pose serious problems when social prescribing and other referral programmes are often advertised as a solution to health services-budgeting constraints, as well as a range of chronic mental and physical health conditions. We recommend researchers and local community organisers alike to critically evaluate for whom, where and why their social referral programmes ‘work’.

  • Social Prescribing
  • Social Referral
  • Literature Review
  • Social Medicine
  • Health Services Research

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  • Contributors ESR, JB and HD designed the study protocol. ESR conducted the database searching, while ESR and ENW conducted the data extraction. The report was written by ESR and JB. All authors edited the manuscript.

  • Funding This work was supported by Innovate UK, project code: 102412-399209.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement Full coding guidelines and summaries for all articles included can be found in the supplementary appendices 1 and 2.