An academic team based at the Institute for Health and Wellbeing at Leeds Metropolitan University has been awarded funding from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Health Services and Delivery Research (NIHR HS&DR) programme to examine peer education and peer support interventions in prisons. The study will be the first of its kind to systematically review the evidence on the effectiveness and cost effectiveness of involving prisoners in providing support, delivering health services or giving health messages to other prisoners.
Prison health is an important issue and more needs to be known about ways to improve physical and mental health in prisons and Young Offender Institutions (YOIs). Since the NHS took over responsibility for healthcare in prisons in 2006, there has been an increase in new health initiatives, such as health trainers (where prisoners provide lifestyle advice and support to other prisoners). There are also many long-standing peer to peer programmes, such as the Listener Scheme, developed and supported by the Samaritans. The study will assess whether these types of approaches can successfully address the complex health needs of prisoners.
The in-depth study will be carried out in collaboration with the Academic Unit of Health Economics, based in The Leeds Institute of Health Sciences at the University of Leeds, and the University of the West of England. The research partnership includes clinicians and managers working within Her Majesty's Prison Service. The team will systematically review the international evidence on peer-based health interventions in prison settings and provide a comprehensive and unbiased summary of the evidence. The results will help to provide a clear picture on whether peer interventions work in order to aid decision making within the NHS and the Prison service. To support the systematic review, an Expert Symposium with experts working in offender health and related fields will be held in May 2012.
Principal investigator Professor Jane South, from the Institute of Health & Wellbeing at Leeds Metropolitan University said: "We are delighted to be awarded this grant from the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR). Our previous research on health trainers and volunteering shows that peer support can be an effective way to help people maintain and improve their health. In this study we will be looking at whether these approaches work in the prison setting. Our strong research partnership will help us ensure that the results are robust and relevant to those planning and delivering prison health services."
Dr Nat Wright (Clinical Director for vulnerable groups at NHS Leeds, with clinical leadership responsibility for a cluster of 3 prisons) added: "Over recent years it has been exciting to see increasing emphasis placed upon the unique contribution that service users (and ex-service users) of healthcare make to future service planning and delivery. However, involving prisoners in such planning and delivery of healthcare remains a significant challenge. Models of best practice are not commonly known. This vital piece of research will help inform future models of best practice whereby the voice of service users within prisons can be more readily heard leading to future improvements in healthcare provision."
For more details visit: www.leedsmet.ac.uk/pips