Funding to investigate health improvement programmes in community supervision

People receiving community supervision (from Community Rehabilitation Companies or the National Probation Service) often have greater healthcare needs compared with the rest of the population, and experience greater problems accessing that healthcare. This is particularly true for those who have recently been released from prison.

A study led by health service researchers from Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry, and supported by a grant from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Public Health Research Programme, will assess whether additional support via Health Trainers is effective in improving the health behaviours and well-being of people receiving community supervision.

The study lead is also supported by the NIHR Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care South West Peninsula (PenCLAHRC).

Health trainers are individuals with a good understanding of the health and social challenges faced by people in the target group, with basic training in effective behavioural change techniques to help address health inequality. They support their clients by helping to build motivation and confidence to make changes. They also provide information about other support options and are there to offer encouragement, share successes and support recovery from relapses.

This research project will explore the most effective ways to do this with people receiving community supervision, and attempt to assess what the benefits are. If the research suggests that this additional support is an acceptable and a cost-effective way of improving health and well-being then it may be rolled out across the country.

In developing the health trainer service, researchers will listen to those who have experienced the criminal justice system to understand things from their perspective. The research team expects to offer potential participants support from a health trainer for up to 12 sessions, to support improvements in their wellbeing and changes in health behaviours, such as alcohol and smoking reduction, increased physical activity, and improved diet. The health trainer will help participants to identify, set and monitor personal goals and will offer ideas and support on how to achieve these aims.

The study is led by Adrian Taylor, Professor in Health Services Research at Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry, with colleagues from the Universities of Southampton and Exeter, and Plymouth City Council. He said: 

“This funding will allow us to address a really important question for commissioners of services for a socially marginalised group across the country. People in this group have very high levels of physical and mental health care needs, often for numerous problems at the same time. They find it difficult to access health improvement services in the way that they are currently delivered, which reinforces their high level of need and the social inequalities which they often experience. Showing that health trainer support benefits would not only be good news for people receiving the service, but may also result in more cost-effective use of NHS services and facilities.”

This trial aims to improve the health and wellbeing of participants and offers the possibility of a new and cost-efficient way of engaging a group of people that are often hard to reach and frequently have multiple and complex problems. In addition to producing savings in health service costs, having better health gives people an improved chance of finding work or training, which in turn is associated with people ceasing to offend and becoming more integrated in mainstream society.