The challenges of integrating signposting into general practice: qualitative stakeholder perspectives on care navigation and social prescribing in primary care

L. Brunton, A. Tazzyman, J. Ferguson, Damian Hodgson, P.A. Nelson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: A national policy focus in England to address general practice workforce issues has led to a commitment to employ significant numbers of non-general practitioner (GP) roles to redistribute workload. This paper focuses on two such roles: the care navigation (CN) and social prescribing link worker (SPLW) roles, which both aim to introduce ‘active signposting’ into primary care, to direct patients to the right professional/services at the right time and free up GP time. There is a lack of research exploring staff views of how these roles are being planned and operationalised into general practice and how signposting is being integrated into primary care. Methods: The design uses in-depth qualitative methods to explore a wide range of stakeholder staff views. We generated a purposive sample of 34 respondents who took part in 17 semi-structured interviews and one focus group (service leads, role holders and host general practice staff). We analysed data using a Template Analysis approach. Results: Three key themes highlight the challenges of operationalising signposting into general practice: 1) role perception – signposting was made challenging by the way both roles were perceived by others (e.g. among the public, patients and general practice staff) and highlighted inherent tensions in the expressed aims of the policy of active signposting; 2) role preparedness – a lack of training meant that some receptionist staff felt unprepared to take on the CN role as expected and raised patient safety issues; for SPLW staff, training affected the consistency of service offer across an area; 3) integration and co-ordination of roles – a lack of planning and co-ordination across components of the health and care system challenged the success of integrating signposting into general practice. Conclusions: This study provides new insights from staff stakeholder perspectives into the challenges of integrating signposting into general practice, and highlights key factors affecting the success of signposting in practice. Clarity of role purpose and remit (including resolving tensions inherent the dual aims of ‘active signposting’), appropriate training and skill development for role holders and adequate communication and engagement between stakeholders/partnership working across services, are required to enable successful integration of signposting into general practice.

Original languageEnglish
Article number66
Pages (from-to)66
JournalBMC Primary Care
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2022


  • Care navigation
  • General practice
  • Qualitative research
  • Signposting
  • Social prescribing link worker


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