Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care


Henry Aughterson (old)


Henry Aughterson photo

My PhD Title: Social prescribing for mental health and well-being: exploring mechanisms of action and barriers and enablers to effective implementation

Supervisors: Dr Daisy Fancourt, Dr Alexandra Burton, Prof Helen Chatterjee, Dr Marie Polley

Social prescribing is a method of referring patients to sources of support in the community, often to support their mental health and wellbeing. This often occurs through a referral from a GP to a link worker, and then to a wide range of community groups and activities, e.g. walking groups, community gardening, sports activities, arts groups and peer support. There is growing evidence social prescribing can improve mental health outcomes, tackle social isolation and reduce healthcare costs. There is limited evidence on social prescribing from the GP perspective, the underlying mechanisms of action of social prescribing activities and also limited evidence exploring long-term adherence and engagement of individuals with social prescribing. This PhD thus contains two aims: 

  1. To explore and understand the mechanisms of action underlying the mental health impacts of social prescribing activities on individuals and build a new ‘theory of change’ framework for social prescribing 
  1. To identify the barriers and enablers to effective social prescribing at each stage of the pathway including amongst (i) GPs, (ii) link workers, and (iii) patients 

To achieve these aims, the PhD contains three projects: 

  • A review and multi-level framework of mechanisms of action on the impact of leisure activities on mental health 
  • A qualitative interview study exploring the barriers and enablers to social prescribing for individuals with mental health problems, from the perspectives of General Practitioners (GPs) 
  • An ethnography bringing together the findings from projects 1 and 2 by exploring the implementation of social prescribing at the GP, link worker and community group stages, the impact of social prescribing on individuals’ mental health and well-being, and factors influencing the longer-term adherence of individuals to community groups 

My Background 

I’m on the UCL MBPhD programme, which is a joint medical and PhD degree, whereby I take 3 years out of medical school (after my 4th year) to complete the PhD. I also have an iBSc in Global Health from UCL – my thesis exploring the mental health impact of rough sleeping on individuals in London. Prior to my PhD, I also helped with a literature review on the mental health impact on left-behind minors in low-income countries. My motivation to begin a PhD on social prescribing is influenced by my year studying Global Health, but mostly by my experience as a medical student – in which I felt the psychosocial components of patient care were often neglected in comparison to excellence in the biomedical areas. I also have significant experience in the community sector, including working with undocumented migrants on healthcare access, gender equality in schools, sexual education, mentoring and community gardening.


iBSc in Global Health at UCL, 2016-17

UCL MBPhD programme, 2014-


  1. Aughterson, H., Baxter, L. & Fancourt, D. Social prescribing for individuals with mental health problems: a qualitative study of barriers and enablers experienced by general practitioners. BMC Fam Pract 21, 194 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12875-020-01264-0
  2. Accepted in Lancet Psychiatry, due to be published early 2021: How leisure activities affect health: A review and multi-level theoretical framework of mechanisms of action using the lens of complex adaptive systems science1  Co-authors: Daisy Fancourt, Henry Aughterson, Saoirse Finn, Emma Walker & Andrew Steptoe  
  3. Academic pre-print: The psychosocial impact on frontline health and social care professionals in the UK during the COVID-19 pandemic: a qualitative interview study Henry Aughterson, Alison McKinlay, Daisy Fancourt, Alexandra Burton medRxiv 2020.11.25.20238766; doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.11.25.20238766

Contact details Email: henry.aughterson.14@ucl.ac.uk

Twitter handle: @henryaughterson