It’s Time to Say #EnoughNow to Adverse Childhood Experiences

Last week, I had the utter privilege of co-hosting a conference with my good friend, Siobhan Collingwood, the head teacher at Morecambe Bay Community Primary School on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), at the Globe Arena. We both know the reality of ACEs every day in our communities (see my previous blog) and so wanted to bring people together from across our amazing community in North Lancashire, working in the public  and community sector, or simply with a passion to see change, to explore how we can begin to say “Enough Now” to ACEs. (Huge thanks to the incredible Jon Dorsett for his graphic art).

 

As part of the day, we hosted a 135 minute conversation for all 180 participants around this theme: ‘Together, what can we do to transform the experience of childhood for good?’ There was such a buzz as people from different backgrounds and perspectives, collaborated and challenged each other to break out of our boxes and find new ways to bring transformation. The ideas generated were incredible and each person left the room with a clear commitment and next step for what they needed to do in their place of work or neighbourhood. Already we are hearing amazing stories and initiatives which are beginning as a result and we are building networks together.

 

We had fantastic input from Prof Warren Larkin, Sue Irwin (and her excellent work with EmBRACE), and host of other brilliant people working across many sectors, lending their expertise to further the conversations in interactive seminars – the feedback on each one has been incredible!

 

So – there is a huge challenge to the English Government (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are already streaks ahead) as to why they are not taking the vast evidence base seriously and playing their part in breaking this devastating cycle. If we are to tackle this enormous issue of ACEs, it means vast changes to the ways we are delivering and measuring education in our schools and a serious reassessment of cuts of funding to children’s centres, midwives and health visitors, removing target-driven outcomes and finding ways to put relationship back into the heart of our modus operandi. It will take a people movement to bring the shifts that are needed, but given just how devastating ACEs are to physical, mental, emotional and social wellbeing and the huge cost burden they are to our public services and society, we have to give ourselves to drawing a line in the sand, saying enough now and reimagining the future together.

 

Here in Morecambe Bay, and across Lancashire, we are taking this issue really seriously and believe it to be one of THE most important population health issues of our time. A few of us have co-authored a ‘Little Book of ACEs’ together, in conjunction with Lancaster University – available very soon (!) which you might find helpful. My section expands a little on a previous blog post I have written here.

 

This whole area of ACEs is so sensitive, it takes compassion, kindness, bravery and wisdom. We cannot face it alone in silos, but together we can! Together, we can bring healing to our communities and freedom for the generations to come. We have to be willing to be those, who life Gandalf, in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ take our staff and say to this Balrog, which has devoured too many lives – “you shall not pass!” We have to give ourselves to drawing a line in the sand, saying “enough now” and step into a reimagined future of childhood, together.

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Goldfish and What They Teach Us!

Last week, I had the privilege of listening to Prof Sandro Galea, from Boston State University talking on the subject: “What do guns, obesity and opiates have in common?!” It was an amazing walk through the world of epidemiology – and the answer? Well – all three things are hugely important problems, they are all complex and therefore simple solutions cannot fix them! 

 

Virchow, one of the earliest and most influential thinkers in the realm of Public Health famously said, “Medicine is a social science and politics is nothing else but medicine on a large scale.” Sandro Galea takes this idea and modifies this slightly, suggesting that, in fact, politics IS health on a large scale. In other words, if we don’t get health and wellbeing (of ALL people and the planet) written into every policy, then we will never tackle the huge issues of health inequality and environmental disaster. 

 

Sandro gave an amusing analogy about his pet goldfish. He told us that every morning, he goes downstairs and sees his lovely goldfish swimming in their goldfish bowl. He cares for them, makes sure they are well fed, doing their exercises, having time for mindfulness to build resilience and ensures their contraceptive needs are catered for. Sadly, one morning, he goes downstairs and finds all his goldfish are dead. He’d forgotten to make sure the water was clean. The fish were, in effect, swimming in a cesspit (needless to ask whether or not fish are meant for a glass bowl!).

 

He has developed several principles when it comes to thinking about epidemiology. Principle number 5 states: “Small changes in ubiquitous causes may result in more substantial change in the health of populations than larger changes in rare causes.” His goldfish illustration shows that the goldfish are surrounded by water and everything they do is influenced by the QUALITY of the water they live in; therefore water is a ubiquitous factor in influencing the fish and needs to taken into consideration EVERY TIME we want to improve the lives of the fish. His point is this: if we don’t care for the environment and the external factors that give us life and wellbeing, then our other little interventions are futile. The problem is that we spend so much of our time making interventions that we can measure and feel successful about, like giving people statins, getting kids to run a mile a day, encouraging breast feeding, getting people through the ED in a timely manner or even giving them smart technology to nudge them towards better health outcomes, but we pay little attention to tackling the much bigger issues of poverty, poor housing, or air pollution.

 

The biomedical model for tackling the huge issues of population health has failed and will continue to fail. Our politics and economic model is broken! We have simply not written health and wellbeing into every aspect of our lives and have developed patterns of education and work that are actually doing more harm than good and driving health inequalities and the health of our planet in the wrong direction. Therefore, where there is evidence that policy is actually making health inequalities worse, or damaging the environment, we must challenge them with the evidence base, and plain common sense!

 

I do believe that communities can together make a massive difference, and increasingly I recognise just how vital policy is in helping us shape a just and fair society and in stewarding an environment, which is sustainable for the future. Policy and law can be love-fuelled and compassionate, and they need to become so, because politics IS health and we need to re-imagine it as such.

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Cuts and More Cuts – a Disaster for our Population’s Health and Wellbeing

Tweet It amazes me, in this 24-hour news world that we live in, that a further £1 BILLION of cuts to our county councils doesn’t remain on the BBC front page until much past lunchtime! It feels a bit more important than some of the stories being picked by the editorial team instead!   https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-45573921 [Continue Reading …]

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Solutions for the NHS Workforce Crisis

Tweet This week, the Kingsfund, one of the most respected think-tanks on health and social care in the UK declared that the current NHS staffing levels are becoming a ‘national emergency’.   The latest figures have been published by the regulator, NHS Improvement, for the April to June period.   They showed: ■   11.8% [Continue Reading …]

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Building a Culture of Kindness in the NHS

Tweet My morning surgery began today with a patient of mine, who works as  Health Care Assistant (or Band 3) in our local acute hospital trust. As we find across the board in the NHS right now, there are pressures in her department with under-staffing and a very high and demanding work load. She started [Continue Reading …]

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Our Nation’s Biggest Public Health Problem

Tweet The subject of this blog is sensitive and difficult. It may stir up some difficult issues or memories for you, as you read. If this happens, then please take time to seek the help you need. I believe this blog and ones to follow might be some of the most important I have written to [Continue Reading …]

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Why Better Care Together?

Tweet There is an ancient proverb that says: without vision, people perish. I believe we in danger of watching the NHS perish in front of our eyes, not because we don’t know what to do or even how to do it. I believe we have been so focused on the what and how of healthcare, [Continue Reading …]

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Changing the Culture of the NHS

Tweet I had the very real privilege of listening to and interacting with Prof Mike West of the Kings Fund as part of a Cumbria Wide learning collaborative a few days ago. It was utterly engaging and inspiring. His basic strap line is this: “The vision of health and social care is to deliver continuously [Continue Reading …]

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Death – Allowing it to Happen Naturally

Tweet Twice a week I do a ward round at our local nursing home. All of my patients there have profound dementia, and none of them recognise me from one visit to the next. Most of them are doubly incontinent and many of them are unable to communicate and are bed bound. And in that [Continue Reading …]

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