Healthy Schools

Last week, I had the privilege of being at Morecambe Bay Community Primary School. The school is a beacon of hope in this area. I found it extremely moving to walk round, with Siobhan Collingwood, the visionary and big-hearted headteacher and see the incredible love displayed by all staff towards the amazing children there. It made me realise again how centrally driven targets often make no sense for so many of our children and communities, especially when the base from which they start is so very different. Siobhan and her team are doing the most incredible job at caring holistically for the children here, dealing with complex behavioural issues with such kindness and brilliance that it brings tears to my eyes, even writing about it. Not only so, but the standard of teaching to then try and help these kids come up to the ‘required standards’, being creative with the resources available, is nothing short of miraculous. I would defy any school inspector to rate this school as anything else than ‘outstanding’.

 
Siobhan and I had a great discussion about the need for health, social care, the voluntary and faith sector, the police and education to work more closely together for the wellbeing of children and young people in our communities. This is already happening in part, through our health and wellbeing partnership and ‘better care together’, but there is far more we can do. We thought about what it might be like if we parachuted fresh into the community now and had to start from scratch, what we might do together…….

 

We would start with stories – we already have many, from the conversations we’ve had in the community, but we want to really listen and be changed by the responses that we hear. We’re so grateful for the work of the ‘poverty truth commission’, helping us to do just that. We would also definitely pool our resources and prioritise key services that would not be taken away once the community begins to thrive, such as parenting classes, cooking lessons, early support services, a radically caring housing sector, preventative policing strategies (now emerging powerfully in partnership with our town and city councils), social care, mental health champions (something Siobhan has already been part of recruiting 150 locally!), children’s centres and adult education centres as a starter for 10. We would overlay this with the things that are working now – there is so much goodness happening and we don’t negate this. We want to ensure that we could see the health inequality gaps close.

 

In order to build on this idea of ‘healthy schools’, we would see kids being active every day – despite, limited grounds space, this school, like many others locally are running a mile a day. There is a great scheme here in which all the kids are learning to cook healthy, nutritious food, building vital life skills needed now and in the future. The breakfast and after school clubs are providing many healthy meals each day for the kids and throughout the summer holidays the schools cook – another woman with an incredibly big heart, opens the hall to feed families, who cannot afford to eat during the long breaks. A huge amount of work is being done around gender equality (have you seen the amazing documentary series “No more boys and girls: can our kids go gender free?” On BBCiplayer?). Kids are also given a huge dose of self esteem and know that they are loved and belong. If only the same level of caring support could be afforded through the transition to high school…..

 

Over the coming months, we hope to co-host some conversations with the community, not on our terms but shaped together with them. Siobhan spent years trying to think of great ideas to get the parents to come into school and interact with her. It wasn’t until the parents set up their own coffee morning in the old garage of the school playground, that she went to meet with them on their terms and started to build some staggeringly life-changing relationships. We know we are changed every time these kind of conversations happen and it blows our world view up so that we can collaborate effectively and co-design services with them. We want to share data with them about health and educational outcomes in order to create a passion for change and do some appreciative enquiry about all the great stuff already embedded in the community. Through these conversations, we want to connect people together and see a social movement for positive change.

The future of Morecambe is bright and full of hope. The communities are strong, the place is beautiful and the people are amazing. Siobhan is just one of many incredible headteachers in this area, committed to one another and this geography through bonds of friendship. If a genuine partnership between health and education can develop here (and it’s part of my vision and ambition to see this done) then who knows what might be possible over the coming months and years?

 

It is time for Morecambe to find its joy again. It has been the joke for too long, but soon it will become the place where the joke is found and everyone will want to know what we’re laughing about.

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Please get your Flu Jab this Year!

We are heading for a massive flu outbreak this winter across the UK and Europe, USA and Canada. Australia have had a seriously nasty outbreak of a strain of flu called H2N3. It held their health care service to ransom over their winter and we need to be ready for it. The best thing you can do is have your flu jab – free on the NHS, here in the UK for those who are most vulnerable. If you get flu this winter, don’t worry, we’re on it! Public Health England are masterful at making sure we are ready and in partnership with the NHS, we will be armed and ready. But the best medicine is preventative. So, PLEASE, get your flu jab as soon as possible and make sure it is the QUADRIVALENT type that covers the strain we are most at risk from! Let’s stay healthy and well this winter.

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Does Design Care?

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of sitting in some conversations at ‘Imagination’, Lancaster University as part of a conference, hosted by Prof Paul Rogers, entitled ‘Does Design Care?’ It has left me with much to think about in terms of how the health and social care system is currently being redesigned here in the UK.

In Morecambe Bay, we have been set a target to save £85 million over the next 3 years, learning to live within a smaller budget than we have had previously. In order to help us consider our options, we were encouraged to have the consultancy firm, PwC, come and work with us for a number of weeks. They met with many of us from across our system and worked with us to subsequently bring some recommendations to us as a leadership team about how they perceive we can tackle the problems facing us. When I met with them, I asked them to consider coming with me to walk through some of our most “deprived” communities, to talk with the people here, so that their proposals did not become detached from those who need our services the most. Unfortunately, they were unable to make the time to do so. I wonder how often consultancy is done and recommendations are made without the involvement of local communities. I wonder if the concept of co-design is anywhere near being at the core of our values. I wonder if design really cares very much at all. I know it does but maybe it has lost its way a bit.

A wonderful challenge was brought to ‘Imagination’ by Saurabh Tewari from India, to embrace the Gandhian principle of ‘Sarvodaya’ as a framework for design. Sarvodaya means ‘the upliftment of all’. The idea flows from Ruskin, of Cumbria in his work ‘Unto This Last’ and from Christ and his teaching from the Parable of the Vineyard. Our design or re-design of systems could easily forget that part of its call is to ensure that this is outworked. Many of the interventions tried through the redesign of services often does nothing at all to tackle health inequalities and in fact can often widen the gaps we see. This idea of ‘Sarvodaya’ has so much synergy with the concept of a ‘redistributive’ and ‘regenerative’ economy. There is little point designing something that does not carry the blatant goal of trying to improve the life of everyone, but especially those who find themselves at the bottom of the pile, or suffering, the most.

The priorities of Sarvodaya are: care for the environment and care for the weakest… so similar to the politics of Jesus – care for the poor, the sick, children, women, prisoners, refugees and the environment. These seem like really good foundational things to be careful about when we think about design of any sort.

Dr James Fathers, Director of Syracuse University School of Design, delivered a powerful paper about this whole area of co-design. He ended with a beautiful quote from Lila Watson an Aboriginal Elder, activist and educator from Queensland, Australia:

“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time.
But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

Design at it’s best, if it is to work for the health and wellbeing of all, means that all are redesigned, re-configured and changed for the better within the process, because all are included in the design process i.e. Co-design. Together we find we need each other and so are all transformed independently and corporately into something more beautiful and whole.

At the heart of ‘Sarvodaya’ is the idea of ‘Khadi’. Khadi is a hand-spun and handwoven cotton cloth, representing both a non-violent protest against the British products, but also a sign of a community learning to be self-reliant, self-sufficient and to use village articles only when and where available. I wonder if we’ve thought about the redesign of our health and social care systems based on the values of caring for those who need it most, uplifting the whole of society (but in so doing, ensuring the closing of the inequality gap), using our resources thoughtfully not wastefully and doing so together, with a spirit of non-violence. What might our systems be like if we held true to these values?

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Who is Responsible for Your Health?

Who should take responsibility for you health? Sounds like a straightforward question, doesn’t it? But I get so frustrated when complex issues get squashed into simplified, silo-thinking, ready for twitter or media sound bites, or the under-girding of political ideologies.

So….just as the economy is not just made up of the interplay between business and the household, but is in fact far more rich and complex, so too the interplay of responsibility for our own health.

Kate Raworth, really helpfully uses the following diagram to help us rethink the components of the economy. I would like to suggest that we use it to think about health, also.

So…who is responsible for your health and wellbeing?

  1. Your Family/Household
  2. Society/The Commons
  3. The Market
  4. The State
  5. You

In some ways, I feel like all of these are obvious, in their own way, but I will just unpack each one a little bit more.

 

Your Family/Household

We all have needs. We need to know we are provided for (water, food, clothes etc), safe, loved, welcome, encouraged, disciplined and given place to dream and live those dream out. It is the role of our families or the household to which we belong to ensure those things happen as we grow. So much of our ill-health, our brokenness and our long term physical and psychological pain is because these basic needs were never met and left us without a sense of wholeness. The lack of met need, has a huge impact on the development of our personality and character. When we speak of ‘personality disorders’, each type has it’s roots in early life when needs were unmet and therefore parts of the personality remained undeveloped. Let’s face it – no family is perfect! And so, I would argue, that all of us have ‘disordered personalities’, and until we confront the shadow parts of ourselves that are trying to overcome this sense of loss or inadequacy, we continue to project an ego version of ourselves to those around us. We do so to cover over this pain, but facing it head on and allowing ourselves to fess up to our deepest needs, would actually lead to us being a great deal more healthy.

When I work with head teachers and ask them what the biggest need they have in their school, the answer is almost always ‘parenting classes’. However, there are very few providers of this available (due to cuts at a county council level) and the classes available are often very ‘middle class’ in their approach. We need to completely rethink parenting classes in the context of the poverty-truth commission and think about less twee ways to really engage with communities about how we raise happy and healthy kids. The truth that Adverse Childhood Experiences are our greatest public health crisis is not going away. Grasping this nettle is going to be painful but really necessary if we are to breathe health and wellbeing into our society.

 

Society/The Commons

Just as we get our needs met by those in our immediate household, the same is true of society. The way we treat children, the things we expose them to, the way we love them and educate them has a massive impact on their current future health and wellbeing. It’s becoming clear that social media is causing significant harm to our mental health as a nation, particularly our young people, and yet we don’t know how to curb our enthusiasm for all our technology…let alone the rise of the robots…

The commons is fast disappearing, too easily privatized and made available to those who can afford it. How do we safeguard the commons and use it for the benefit of all? What would the Diggers say to us now? The breakdown of our communities, with increasing isolation and loneliness is having a detrimental effect on our wellbeing. What can we do to recover the spaces that belong to us all and help us rediscover the joy of connecting and being together?

The commons is also about our corporate voice. It is only really vast people movements, speaking with one voice that can really cause governments to sit up, listen and take heed of the needs of the people. It is only together, that we will make enough noise to change the health and wellbeing of all of us for the better. How might we speak and act together in a way that will take corporate responsibility for all our health and wellbeing?

 

The Market

Oh the benevolent hand of the market! If only…. But the Market plays an absolutely key (though currently over played) part in our economy and our health and wellbeing. We know for a fact that advertising is deliberately trying to misinform us so that we make irrational decisions. A key component is to make people feel worse about themselves so that they buy things they simply do not need. Supermarkets are being challenged for the ways they deliberately place products and arrange their stores to cause people to buy more unhealthy things and food chains are constantly trying to ‘up-sell’ their unhealthy products and downgrade our health in the process. They evangelize the masses with the idea that we are all free to make our own choices, but if this were so, they would not spend the billions of pounds involved in socially engineering our choices, so that we ‘freely’ choose that which harms us! Oh for a market that might redefine it’s moral code! The market could do SO much good, but unharnessed and left without true accountability or consequences, it serves to damage our health – something it is truly responsible for.

 

The State

The state has a vital role and responsibility in caring for all of our health and when it washes it’s hands of that responsibility or tries to pass it over, we see a massive rise in health inequalities and overall worse-health for all. The NHS in the UK is one of the great triumphs of the state. Providing brilliant healthcare for those who need it whenever they are unwell is truly amazing. Imagine not being able to afford this because it depended on keeping up with insurance bills. It is not uncommon for us to see people in General Practice, who literally cannot afford to feed their families any more and are having to make some incredibly difficult choices (made far worse by long school holidays). Easy to point the finger and start creating a narrative about how it’s “all their fault”, but far harder to hear the truth of what it is really like to be a lived-expert in poverty and the trap it creates and harder still to look to alternative solutions, rather than believe the austerity narrative. There is clear evidence that the more unequal a society becomes, the worse the health outcomes – both physical and mental. When the market is allowed to behave exactly as it wants, we also see the health of people suffer. It is only through the right kind of government that the market can be tamed. It is only with the right kind of legislation that the economy can be skewed towards redistribution and regeneration of the resources needed – this would need to include a radically feminist approach that works on behalf of women, in particular, for equal opportunity, pay and recognition of just how much the ‘household economy’ contributes to the overall wellbeing of the nation. It is only the right kind of leadership that will tackle the inequalities we see and refuse to be wined and dined into maintaining the status quo. It is only brave leadership that will take the ecological issues, like plastic in the oceans, massive over antibiotic use in animals, and ongoing air and river pollution that will give us a healthy planet and human population in the future.

 

You

And where possible, and for some given various health issues, this is more possible for some than others – we do not all have an equal starting place or a level playing field – where we can  – we do have a responsibility to ourselves and to the wider society to care for our own health and wellbeing, so that when the health and social services are needed, they are available for all. It also means using the health and social care services in a way that creates sustainability, being grateful for them and ensuring they and the people who work in them are not abused.

 

It’s complex, but it’s vital that too much emphasis is not put on any one area. We must not play the blame game, especially not towards individuals when we haven’t taken the time to hear their story, nor understood the wider context of the role of the other vital players on the field. Each aspect of the economy plays a massive role in the health and wellbeing of the nation, and it is high time that each plays it’s relevant part to its fullest ability.

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Building Healthy Towns and Regions

The other week, I was phoned by a BBC producer to ask if I would take part in a discussion on the Victoria Derbyshire show about how we can build healthy towns. It’s partly due to the work we’re doing here in Morecambe Bay with our communities around being more healthy and well, especially working with schools. Unfortunately, I was away on holiday and missed the call and so didn’t get on the show! But it did get me old grey cells thinking about this whole idea. Here at Lancaster University, we have the Health Innovation Campus, which is helping to design a new ‘healthy town’ in Lancashire. The “Imagination Team” are also hosting a conference this week called “Does Design Care?” But what do we mean by a healthy town and what ingredients might we need to see in our cities in order to say that they are, or are becoming “healthy”?

 

We must get beyond thinking that a healthy town is simply one where there is clean air to breathe and everyone is out jogging, smiling at each other and eating quinoa salads for lunch – it’s all a bit middle class! I would like to make some fairly radical suggestions of what it might mean for a town to be truly healthy, especially having been so inspired by the amazing ‘Doughnut Economics’ by Kate Raworth. I think if we don’t have a vision for what we want our future towns, cities and regions to be like in 50 years, we will not build them! I am often told that you cannot eat an elephant in one go, and we must focus on the small things we can do – eating it one bit at a time – true enough, but we need to hold both things in tension. We need a vision big enough to inspire us to change and then we need to pick up the knives and forks and begin the process of eating it!

 

So, what might healthy towns of the future be like?

In healthy towns:

There are no homeless, not because of social cleansing, but because everyone has a home in which to live.

Design cares enough to ensure that spaces are built which encourage communities to spend time with each other, connecting and collaborating, breaking down isolation and loneliness and facilitating new political space.

There is a creative commons, with plenty of space that belongs to all.

The economy of the town/region is designed to ensure that resources (including land) are redistributed, breaking cycles of poverty and enabling all to flourish. This increases the happiness and health of all and allows a society in which the wellbeing of all matters to all.

The economy of the town/region is designed to ensure regeneration, thus taking care of the environment for future generations. Towns like this will not only be carbon neutral, they will in fact, as Kate Raworth says, become generous in their approach to humanity, other towns and the planet itself.

Children will be nurtured, as part of communities, not as fodder for the economic machine, educated as socially adaptable human beings, understanding their place within the ecosystem of which they are a part.

There will be a culture of positive peace, made possible through non-violence, in which architecture is used to enable communities to live well in the midst of and celebrate difference. Facilitation and mediation will be normative practices when relationships become strained or difficult and the lust for competition and war will be quelled.

There will be a culture of love, in which all are welcome and accepted for who they are. This does not encourage selfishness, nor does it mean that there is no challenge. In fact, love, at its best, is self-giving and others-empowering (Thomas Jay Oord).

There will be a culture of kindness, displayed through humility and respect.

There will be a culture of joy in which people know that they belong and are trusted.

Justice will be restorative, rather than retributive, something which does not negate the need for discipline, but hopes for a better future through grace.

Refugees are welcomed, cared for and also allowed to flourish.

Equality and diversity is celebrated as a norm.

Farming practices are kind to the land.

Business is changing it’s goal, becoming agnostic about growth, but obsessed with how it plays it’s part in improving the wellbeing of all through regeneration, redistribution, repair, reuse, refurbishment, recycling and restoration.

People are valued in their work place and the workplace is a healthy place to be in.

Physical activity and healthy eating are a normal part of every day life. (Thought I’d better add that one in!).

Wherever possible, people die well, surrounded by community who love them.

 

Wouldn’t you love to live in a happy, healthy, wholesome town?! It’s not beyond our grasp. We simply need to adapt the ones we have and build the ones we want! Building together a future that is good for all. Which bit shall we eat first?!

 

 

 

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The Ethics of Health Economics

The ethics of Healthcare is about 2000 years ahead of the ethics of Health Economics! All doctors in the UK take an amended Hippocratic oath when we qualify, in which we promise to:

 

  • Do no harm
  • Prioritise the patient
  • Treat the whole person, not just the symptom
  • Obtain prior informed consent
  • Call on the expertise of others when needed

 

We also have our ethical code:

 

  • Benficence – i.e. seek to do good
  • Non-maleficence – i.e. don’t deliberately do harm
  • Justice i.e. treat everyone equally
  • Autonomy – i.e. respect the wishes of your patient

 

Kate Raworth argues in her simply marvellous book, Doughnut economics (in the Chapter “Get Savvy With Systems”), that the discipline of Economics simply does not have any such moral or ethical code. In fact, as George Di Martino puts it, “it is entirely cavalier regarding its responsibilities”. But in a world, based on theories (most of which are entirely outdated and impotent in solving the global issues we face today), it is vital that an ethical code is written on which economic decisions can be based. She makes the following suggestions:

 

  • Act in service to human prosperity in a flourishing web of life, recognising all that it depends upon.
  • Respect autonomy in the communities that you serve, ensuring their engagement and consent.
  • Be prudential in policy making, seeking to minimise the risk of harm -especially to the most vulnerable – in the face of uncertainty.
  • Work with humility, by making transparent the assumptions and shortcomings of your models and by recognising alternative economic perspectives and tools.

 

In some ways, I think you could take the ethical code of the medical world and simply apply it that of economics, but the four principles above give us a good starting framework.

 

The reason I want to explore this whole idea and will give some further blogs to this area of health economics is that, to my mind, it is ludicrous to be talking about ‘reimagining health’, if we are not also in the same breath ‘reimagining health economics’ or indeed ‘reimagining economics’. Much of what is happening within the world of health and social care at the moment is being driven by an economic model that lacks a moral compass or an ethical frame work. It is high time that this changed! Decisions made about how a health and social care system is organised and governed hugely impacts on how that health and social care is subsequently delivered. We cannot afford to separate our ethical principles from our commissioning strategies. There must be far more synergy between the two.

 

I love this quote from Donella Meadows:

 

“The future can’t be predicted, but it can be envisioned and brought lovingly into being. Systems can’t be controlled, but they can be designed and redesigned (emphasis mine). We can listen to what the whole system tells us, and discover how its properties and our values can work together to bring forth something much better than can ever be produced by our will alone”.

 

Plenty to think about there!

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NHS or IHS?

The commonwealth fund (an influential US think tank) recently declared the NHS to be the best healthcare system in the world, for the second year running!

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/jul/14/nhs-holds-on-to-top-spot-in-healthcare-survey

 

Many think of the NHS as the Jewel in the UK Crown, more popular, as it is, then our own Royal Family. Andrew Street (professor of Health Economics at York) tells us why, and compares it to the US Insurance-based System:

http://theconversation.com/why-the-british-love-the-national-health-service-66314

 

We spend less of our GDP, per head of population, than almost any other developed nation and yet continue to have the best service there is.  It clearly is not unaffordable. It is something to be extremely grateful for! Why on earth would you spend over 18% of your GDP on health, as our friends in the US do, and still not be able to provide great health care for every person in your nation, no matter of their ability to pay? I do not understand why the NHS (or any “social model” of healthcare) is vilified from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, when it is the most cost effective and clinically safe health system that there is anywhere in the world.

 

So, I’ve been wondering – why keep it to ourselves? Why just stop at a National Health Service? Why not go International (but not in an awful old-school Imperial Way, but rather a life-giving, loving kind of a way?). We have some of the best public health knowledge there is. We are learning to work creatively and differently with our population for prevention of illness and self-care. We know how to manage complex systems and budgets and we are able to adapt to new challenges relatively quickly. We know what it is to limit our spending and not allow it to get out of control and we know how to regulate corporate giants who would love to turn it into a profit-making machine.

 

The issues of global justice, when it comes to healthcare are insane. We keep talking about wanting to ‘lead the world’. Well – that old style of imperial dominance is thankfully dead and buried and will never be recovered. But we can humbly offer what we do know onto the table and see if we could all learn together about how to have a more globally just health care system. Why stop at the NHS? Why be satisfied with only a National Health Service? Let’s stop wasting time, money and resource on space exploration, projects which destroy the environment and building ridiculous weapons. Instead, let’s imagine a world with an International Health System in which we really get to grips with the kind of issues that are needlessly destroying millions of human lives every year. The possibilities of an IHS are endless and there are multiple ways it could be stewarded. If every nation contributed 8.9% of its own GDP towards it (as we do in the UK), I wonder just what might be possible and how much more connected we might become as a family of nations. Do we still dare to dream these days?

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Perspective

Earlier this week I wrote another blog about the health inequalities we face in the North, compared to the South. Then I spent some time with a good friend of mine, who has spent much of his life in other countries. In what I’m about to write, I’m not negating the injustice that exists between North and South in the UK, or belittling the struggles that many of us face. But it did make me reflect again about wider issues of justice, not just locally but globally. Perspective is everything.

 

There has been much in the press over recent months about the rise of food banks – I do agree that this is shocking. But how amazing it is to live in a country where food banks are possible! Currently, 1 child dies every 10 seconds in the world today from HUNGER! Can you pause to imagine that?

 

It is true that some of our most economically deprived communities still have outside toilets. But those toilets are connected to a mains sewerage system that keeps disease far from us. 500,000 people (most of them children) – die every year from DIARRHOEA! That is like the entire population of the City of Leeds being wiped out every year from something entirely preventable. Clean water and sanitation – think about it.

 

The so-called childhood diseases of measles, rubella, pertussis (whooping cough), tetanus, and diphtheria are responsible for several hundred thousand deaths per year. Fortunately, all of these diseases are preventable through inexpensive vaccines.

 

Can you imagine for one minute if children across the UK were dying of hunger, diarrhoea and preventable illnesses? There would be uproar and rioting. But the poor suffer what they must.

 

Why am I writing this? Because we must constantly challenge our perspectives. It doesn’t mean that we should not tackle injustice at a local level. But, I think it does mean that if we challenge injustice at a local level, let’s not just be satisfied to stop there. We must tackle injustice at every level, wherever we see it and keep pushing ourselves to look further and deeper, beyond our own borders.

 

 

 

 

 

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Don’t Mind The Gap – Address It!

So, here it is in black and white: the health gap between the north and south is getting wider, and in fact it is now the worst it has been in over 50 years!

 

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/aug/08/alarming-rise-in-early-deaths-of-young-adults-in-the-north-of-england-study?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/pa/article-4770286/Death-records-growing-north-south-divide-study-finds.html?ito=email_share_article-top

 

I’ve blogged about this on here before, but the figures from this latest study are utterly stark:

 

In 2015, 29.3% more 25-34-year-olds died in the north than the south.

For those aged 35-44 it was almost 50% higher than the south in 2015!

 

Overall, there were 1.2MILLION more early deaths for those under 75 in the North compared to the South over the last 50 years. That is 24000 people dying younger than needed every single year extra in the North.

 

Leading complex change in the NHS and social care system involves systems thinking and economic modelling, which is more like gardening than a traditional mechanistic approach. However, you can prune all you like and plant all kinds of new seeds, but if your soil is depleted of the resources that plants need to grow and flourish and if you’re living in an area of drought, then no matter how hard you try, your garden remains barren. This is our experience in the North and it has to change now! We can’t simply take the same approach as the south. The soil is different here, the land is barren and the environment is harsher.

 

What the North needs now is a clear admission, by central government, of the inequalities that exist and a fair redistribution of resources to tackle the health deficit we experience here. As gardeners, we are working our fingers to the bone. We are engaging in population health, redesigning our systems, ensuring that we are dealing with our waste appropriately and joining up our depleted partnerships to provide the best care we possibly can. But we need investment in our soil! We need water! We need to know that northern gardens matter as much as southern ones do. The wider determinants of health – poverty, housing, education, aspiration, adverse childhood experiences and isolation are themselves in need of investment. But we also need investment, not further austerity, in the health and social care systems that are trying to deal with the consequences of these issues. Yes, we need a people movement in the North (see previous blogs), but we need a fair allocation of resource also!

 

The evidence is clear. The challenge to the centre is this: what will be done differently to redress this imbalance? What will be done to allow the North to flourish in health and wellbeing?

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What Next for General Practice?

Last week, I had a sixth form student spend the week with me. She is hoping to go to medical school and is gaining the necessary work experience ahead of her applications. It was so great to be able to share with her the variance of my work and the great privilege it is to be a GP in the community. On the first day, we saw people with all kinds of problems, often interlinked or overlapping. She was amazed by how well I know my patients, not just the conditions they have, but them as people and the complexities of their lives. At Ash Trees Surgery, the practice where I am a partner, we run personal lists, in which we as GPs always see the same set of patients, supported by 2 other doctors, for times when one of us is not around. It gives us the opportunity of building fantastic therapeutic relationships with the people we serve and we get to know them really well. Our patients love it, we love it, and it has been a ‘traditional model’ of General Practice in our local community.

 

However, things are changing (not immediately in our case, but faster than perhaps we would like), and we (as GPs) and people generally, are going to have to get used to it, not just in Carnforth, but across the whole of the UK. I’m not writing this blog post as an idealist, but as a pragmatist. There are many things I wish were not changing, but we are reaching a point at which the scales are tipping and things simply cannot remain as they have been. Many GPs know this already and are making bold and difficult decisions to try and work differently, but many of us keep harking back to yesteryear and wishing we could turn the clocks back.

 

The issues facing us are stark:

 

1) We simply will not have enough GPs within the next 5 years to carry on working in the ways we have done. 40% of current GPs will be retiring within the next 5 years or moving into other work. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2017/07/30/nearly-40-per-cent-gps-plan-leave-nhs-within-five-years/).

 

2) The promise of 5000 more GPs will simply not come to fruition and certainly not in the time frame needed. Actually, a plan is afoot to replace some of the GPs with ‘Physician Associates’, people who have a science or allied degree, who have then done a conversation course and can do some (but certainly not all) of the work of a GP. They will also neeed supervision by GPs. Health Education England are having to cut GP training in order to make way for this new breed of health care workers (yet unproven). The Royal College welcomes the development as a support, but not a replacement of GPs. (http://www.pulsetoday.co.uk/your-practice/practice-topics/education/gp-training-cuts-necessary-to-allow-hee-to-develop-physician-associates/20034643.article#.WUrZgli-YHU.twitter)

 

3) The new generation of GPs, do not want to become partners and therefore the old partnership model will soon become entirely unsustainable. The results of a recent survey, carried out by Pulse of GP Trainers about the future careers aspirations of their trainees is pretty stark:

Only 6% said their trainees wanted to go into partnerships;
49% said their trainees wanted to become locums;
28% said their trainees wanted to go abroad
30% said their trainees wanted to find a salaried post;
4% said their trainees wanted to change career.

 

So, in summary, the older GPs are retiring, we’re not recruiting enough new GPs and those we are recruiting, simply don’t want to work in the ways we have been used to.

 

The Five Year Forward View has been trying to encourage us all to reimagine General Practice and how we might hold true to the values of this bedrock of the NHS, whilst adapting towards the future that is coming. I think we have some options, and GPs need to think clearly and carefully about which direction they want to head in. But even more importantly, the people of the UK need to recognise that change is afoot and GPs are simply unable to work as we have done previously. The demand is too great and the resource simply is not there to carry on as we were.

 

The first option, is for GPs to bury their heads in the sand and hope that all this might not be true, to become more entrenched in their position and wait for things to be done to them. I believe this will be harmful for General Practice itself, as it will mean a decrease in resources, an increasingly burdensome workload and significant burnout. But I also believe it is detrimental to the NHS as a whole. We neeed to break down the barriers that have divided us and work more holistically across what is a very complex system. Waving the flag of traditional General Practice is admirable in some ways, but I think it might prevent us from stepping into the future that the nation now needs from its NHS.

 

The second option is for GPs to federate with other practices, keeping hold of some of what they love, (a perceived sense of autonomy, the ability to run their own business, to stay part of a smaller team) whilst benefiting from sharing some functions like training, recruitment and maybe some staff with other practices. We have done this in Morecambe Bay (thanks to the Stirling work of Rahul Keith, John Miles, Lauren Butler, Richard Russell, Graham Atkinson, Chris Coldwell et al).  However, the federated model has to be given true commitment and financial support or it will accomplish very little. Practices cannot go back to competitive mindsets or taking care of their own needs first. It requires a bigger heart and a more open mind with genuine behavioural change.

 

The third option is to form super-practices. We have two in our area now (Bay Medical Group in Morecambe – > 60000 patients  and Lancaster Medical Practice >50000 – also both part of our federation). There are some huge advantages in working “at scale”, but it is not easy and certainly not a smooth transition. GPs have to learn to trust each other and be willing to have difficult conversations around buildings, drawings, policies etc, let alone learning to work differently. But more than that it is very hard to learn how to deliver really good General Practice in a personal way, whilst trying to reconfigure the team and establishing a really good culture. However, this model definitely allows new ways of working to be more easily acheivable, if given appropriate OD support. Some recent work done in Gosport and showcased by the King’s Fund showed that perhaps only 9% of people who phone asking to see a GP actually need to see a GP. The reality is that people have become used to seeing their GP, but often they could be seen and treated more effectively by a pharmacist, a nurse, a nurse practitioner, a physiotherapist, a mental health worker, a physician associate or a health coach. Perhaps GPs need to let go, whilst patients learn to trust the expertise of others? How do we transition to this kind of approach without losing that amazing knowledge of a community and complex social dynamics, often held by a GP? How does a Multi-Disciplinary team function effectively for the best care possible for patients in such a dynamic? We are in danger of losing something very precious, but can we somehow hold onto it in a different way?

 

The fourth option is to allow a “take-over” and become a more active player in an Accountable Care Organisation. The take-over approach is not straightforward, but I’m not sure it is as terrible as it appears to many GP colleagues. What if an acute trust set up a separate company, lead by a GP as medical director, who understood and held the true values of General Practice in his/her heart (as they have done in Yeovil – https://www.england.nhs.uk/blog/paul-mears-berge-balian/)? The company, run by General Practitioners, holding true to the core delivery of General Practice, without all the difficulties of running a business, HR issues, estates, etc etc but with all the benefits of shared IT systems, easier access to scans, no duplication of work and direct access to services without all the current clunkiness, not to mention protected admin time! What if the salary was right and the dross was removed? What is it exactly that would not be appealing about this? It is interesting to me. Only a couple of years ago I would have been utterly opposed to this idea, but having given it thought and time over several months, exploring the possibilities involved, I’m in the place of thinking that the benefits probably outweigh the negatives both for GPs and our patients.

 

What we need right now is for us all to accept that the NHS, as we have known it is no longer functioning in a way that meets the need of the population we seek to serve. We know we need a greater emphasis on prevention and population health (I have blogged on this many times before and will do so again!). We also know that the system itself is vastly complex and is in need of major reform and reconfiguration. We need this not only for the people who use the NHS, but for those of us who work in it and are in danger of serious burn out. I hope with all my heart that General Practice does not drag its feet and prevent the revolution that is needed. Our case for more resource and more recognition of the fabulous work we do will only gain favour, if we also show that we are willing to be a part of the whole and a part of the change that must ensue.

 

 

 

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