Optimising cultural provision to improve older people's wellbeing through social prescribing in the context of COVID-19: Realist review and evaluation

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Primary Care Health Sciences


In recent years, cultural institutions have supported public wellbeing (e.g. increasing offers of activities and volunteering opportunities) and can be considered 'community assets' that are central to social prescribing. Social prescribing aims to empower people to address 'non-medical' challenges (e.g. isolation, anxiety, low mood) that affect how they feel physically and psychologically. The NHS has seen the introduction of link workers, employed to work in GP practices to facilitate social prescribing by connecting people to community assets (e.g. groups, organisations, charities). This might include connections to cultural institutions, which can ameliorate social isolation and give people a focus away from their worries. The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting what the cultural sector can offer, at a time when significant mental and/or social consequences of the crisis are anticipated, especially among older people. From the outset, this population was identified as 'at risk' from the condition itself and responses to it, including extreme isolation, especially if unfamiliar with online communication. Our research will explore how cultural institutions adapt to support older people's wellbeing. This will allow us to provide recommendations on being 'referral-ready'[1] cultural institutions for social prescribing for older people in the context of the current pandemic and future ones. We will use a realist approach to explore what works, for whom, why and in what circumstances. We will synthesise existing evidence to develop a programme theory on how cultural institutions might be best mobilised and engaged to support older people's resilience during and after the pandemic. We will refine this programme theory by testing it through further data collection: interviews with older people/cultural institution staff and survey with link workers.


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