Intended for healthcare professionals

Practice Guidelines

Social work with adults experiencing complex needs: summary of NICE guidance

BMJ 2022; 377 doi: (Published 20 June 2022) Cite this as: BMJ 2022;377:o1077
  1. Agnesa Mehmeti, systematic reviewer1,
  2. Jennifer Francis, senior systematic reviewer1,
  3. Katharina Dworzynski, guideline lead1,
  4. Brynmor Lloyd-Evans, topic adviser and associate professor2
  5. on behalf of the Guideline Committee
  1. 1National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, London, UK
  2. 2Division of Psychiatry, University College London, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to A Mehmeti agnesa.mehmeti{at}

What you need to know

  • The new NICE guideline supports integrated working between general practitioners and social workers

  • A named social worker can help to provide continuity and ongoing support by identifying and meeting needs and helping to avoid deterioration and admission to hospital

  • Social workers can help people with complex needs create meaningful social connections, potentially resolving some unmet social needs

  • Recommendations from NICE complement the NHS long term plan to create new partnerships between organisations that meet health and care needs

Social work encompasses a range of interventions aimed at improving people’s lives. Social workers use these interventions to help people maintain or achieve independence and social functioning. They can be involved in all aspects of a person’s care, such as assessing needs and arranging care, at hospital discharge, planning for the future, and supporting social connections, all with the aim of improving overall health and wellbeing.

A person’s social care and healthcare needs are intrinsically linked. Yet, historically the health and social care systems in the UK have functioned as separate entities, often with little communication between the two. One of the goals of the NHS Long Term Plan1 is the provision of integrated care, joining up the health, social care, and voluntary sectors. Integrated Care Systems have been set up and tasked “to deliver the ‘triple integration’ of primary and specialist care, physical and mental health services, and health with social care.”

In response to these changes, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has produced a guideline to provide evidence based recommendations to support social work interventions for adults with complex needs. Recommendations in the guideline are not limited to specific conditions or social situations, and are relevant for all adults whose needs and difficulties are serious enough to require a high level of support from both …

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