PLINY research study

Putting Life in Years (PLINY): Telephone friendship groups research study


The aim of the PLINY research study was to find out whether telephone friendship groups can improve well-being in people aged 75 and over and if so, how.

This study was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), Public Health Research (PHR) programme (PHR 09-3004-01).

Purpose of the study

People are living longer and many experience a good old age. Unfortunately longer life is not always accompanied by good health and well-being.

Older people can become lonely, isolated and unhappy as a result of a whole number of factors such as reduced physical abilities and bereavement.

Telephone befriending/friendship services are usually provided through the voluntary sector and are available in a number of locations. Befriending can take place on a one-to-one basis or through small groups of people linked together by telephone.

A small amount of research has already been conducted into telephone befriending. It appears to provide benefit but evidence from more people who have experienced telephone friendship is needed to be able to make clear statements about whether it should be recommended. 

Study update - 10 December 2014

What did the study involve?

The study which was a randomised controlled trial was conducted by the Universities of Sheffield, Northumbria, Bangor and Southampton. We worked in partnership with Age UK who provided funding to pay for the cost of delivering telephone friendship groups.

A service provider in the locality identified and supported volunteers to deliver the telephone friendship groups. Community Network connected small groups of participants together over the telephone (teleconferencing).

Community Network has been running telephone friendship groups since its inception, over 20 years ago.

The research aimed to examine whether people aged 75 years and over living in the locality come forward to be involved in the study and to what extent telephone friendship can help participants to experience well-being. We were particularly interested in involving those who consider themselves to be lonely and isolated and as a consequence are likely to be unhappy.

We also set out to see whether telephone groups were cost effective and examine implementation issues of setting up a new service run by volunteer facilitators.

This is so that charities and other service providers would be able to deliver the service with confidence in the future if it were proved to be beneficial.

Recruitment of participants

Unfortunately the study team stopped recruitment in January 2013 due to the service provider being unable to recruit and retain enough volunteers to match participant recruitment to the telephone friendship service. However, before stopping recruitment 157 residents in the locality committed to take part in the study.

These participants received a letter explaining that the study was closing early and what this meant for them. Some participants were invited to take part in follow-up questionnaires.

Those who took part in the telephone friendship service were also invited to talk about their experience in an interview. The study formally closed on 30 June 2013.

We would like to thank those who took part in the study for their time and interest as well as those who have assisted us in the research for their input.

Results of the study

The main findings of the PLINY trial have been published online in the Trials journal.

The full report of the findings of this study is available online in the NIHR's Journal Library.

Trial registration

  • Controlled Clinical Trials: ISRCTN28645428
  • UK Clinical Research Network: UKCRN ID: 11756

PLINY team

Name Role Email Phone
Prof Gail Mountain

Cheif Investigator

ScHARR, University of Sheffield +44 114 222 2982
Rebecca Gossage-Worrall

Study Manager

ScHARR, University of Sheffield +44 114 222 5206
Louise Newbould

Research Assistant

ScHARR, University of Sheffield +44 114 222 8274
Rosie Duncan

Research Assistant

ScHARR, University of Sheffield +44 114 222 8276
Dr Elizabeth Goyder

Public Health Consultant

ScHARR, University of Sheffield +44 114 222 0738
Dr Danny Hind

CTRU Advice

ScHARR, University of Sheffield +44 114 222 0707
Dr Cindy Cooper

Director, CTRU

ScHARR, University of Sheffield +44 114 222 0743
Prof Stephen Walters

Senior Trial Statistician

ScHARR, University of Sheffield +44 114 222 0730
Tim Chater

Data Management

ScHARR, University of Sheffield +44 114 222 0876
Lauren O'Hara

Trial Support Officer

ScHARR, University of Sheffield +44 (0)114 222 0880
James Goodwin

Head of Research

Age UK National 0800 169 8080
Angela Cairns

Chief Executive

Community Network 0207 923 5250

The views and opinions expressed are those of the PLINY team and do not necessarily reflect those of the NIHR PHR programme or the Department of Health.

Centres of excellence

The University's cross-faculty research centres harness our interdisciplinary expertise to solve the world's most pressing challenges.