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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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?
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 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.
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.
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”.
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:
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?
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?
I am increasingly concerned by the use of the word “customer” to describe people who use the NHS and social services. I hear it often in meetings and it is, in my opinion really dangerous. It is dangerous for 2 reasons: firstly, it assumes that people “buy” services, which they do not (because our services are not and must not become based upon ability to pay); and secondly it creates a very unhelpful understanding of how we expect people to behave in relation to their own health and the health service i.e. as consumers, rather than participants.
I heard recently about a practice in Columbus, Ohio, in which before beginning an operation, each member of the team: the patient, the surgeon, the anaesthetist the nurse, the ODA and the recovery nurse all stand in a circle and agree who is responsible for which bits of the healing process. It takes into account the ‘checklist’ idea of Atul Gawande and expands it further. Each person, including the patient (except in emergency settings when they are unconscious) have some responsibility to take for the healing that is about to ensue. It is vital that the patient themself understands that they have a key role to play in their own recovery.
If people think of themselves as the ‘customer’ or we think of them that way, we can all too easliy exclude them from taking an active part in their own health journey. The NHS is not a sweet shop or a passive experience in which you have things done to you – at least it shouldn’t be. Creating a ‘customer base’ is the antithesis of a social movement for health and wellbeing and we need to stop this really unhelpful language now!
There is a step-ladder approach to thinking about engagement and participation which is really helpful. I’m not exactly sure who first drew this, so can’t give credit where it is due:
We are actively producing and encouraging a society of passivity and consumerism and we need a sizmic shift in our thinking to create a totally different approach to how we think about our health and wellbeing.
If we think of, or encourage people to think of themselves as customers of our health and social care services (and this applies across the public sector, so this could equally be written about education, the cleanliness of our streets etc) then we assign people to the bottom two rungs of the ladder as victims and consumers. It is no wonder that we are facing some of the issues we are. It has created an incredibly unhelpful and unhealthy power dynamic and has caused an enormous strain on our services.
I’m not talking uncompassionately here. I know that many people have to live with long term conditions that can be utterly debilitating and difficult to cope with on a day to day basis. What I’m talking about here is how we respond to people who live with those complexities every day. We don’t have to treat them as victims, nor as consumers. Surely, we want people at least to be able to translate what their choices are – what’s possible for me or even what is in this for me? It would be one step better for people to be able to actively participate in their own care – this can be both active and reflective. But what about people being able to shape or co-produce the kind of care they would like to see and what might their role be in this?
Co-production calls for a double accountability. What is the responsibility of the person who has a certain condition and what is the response ability of the service to work with that person or group of people around that condition/situation? It is not for us to be taking power away from people. We have to learn to work differently and to work with people.
People using the NHS and Social Services are not customers and we must stop talking about them in this way. They are active participants in their own health and social needs, who should be able to shape and co-produce the kind of services we all need to improve our health and wellbeing. This kind of approach is vital if we want to see an end of the consumer mentality and an embracing of a greater sense of corporate responsibility.
That is why I am so passionate that we take our financial difficulties and conundrums out to community conversation. It is not for those of us in positions of power to make decisions on behalf of our communities, (even though this is our statutory responsibility) because if we do, we will only deepen the victim/consumer mentality. No, we must be honest, change our language, share our problems and engage together to recognise that the future of the NHS and Social Care belongs to us all and is our shared responsibility.
In my last blog, I was exploring how some of the biggest determinants of our health and wellbeing have very little to do with healthcare at all. They are societal issues, with huge implications on how we live together. Issues like poverty, homelessness, loneliness and adverse childhood experiences are far greater drivers of health inequalities and outcomes than many of the other things we spend an inordinate amount of time and energy focusing on.
However, it is only a social movement of people, willing to face up to and do something about these kind of injustices in our society that is going to bring about real and lasting change. Our old ways of operating, in which public servants try to find the answers and ‘do things’ to communities to ‘fix’ the problems simply are not working. The change we need is only going to come from the grass roots, when communities get together, ask difficult questions, give space for really important discussion and learn to forge new ways ahead in collaboration.
Do we know how to ask good questions? Do we know how to explore complex issues? Do we know how to create the kind of spaces in which we can have really important conversations about the future we might like to co-create together, a future based on values we hold dear, like love, trust and kindness? How much more healthy and well might we all be, if we found a new way of being together, based on collaboration and cooperation? People talk about a new politics – politics is in essence about how people live together, not about how decisions are made in government. A friend and colleague of mine, Ian Dewar, is helping to host a health festival in Lancaster in a few weeks time and he is calling it – ‘The Lost Art of Living’.
The team I work with are committed to training and creating a network of people who would like to co-steward spaces in which we could host these kind of really important conversations. Our hope is that everyone in our area is able to live life more fully, in the best possible health and wellness for them. Here is an example of a training we did in Morecambe in February:
Together, we are are sharpening our skills and using these techniques in a variety of ways to help build this social movement for change in our health and wellbeing. Here are some more ways we are using it:
We are creating a community of practice, unashamedly using these techniques to help shape the cultures of our own organisations and communities and hope to further spread this practice as a method of holding space for new ideas to emerge. Taking time to connect as human beings, asking good questions and using techniques that can really help explore the issues at hand can be truly transformational. the ‘Art of Hosting’ is not a social movement in and of itself, but it helps give the tools and prepare the ground in which one can emerge and flourish. If you live in the Bay, come and co-create with us……if you don’t why not be a catalyst for change where you are?
In the months ahead, we will be offering more training and hosting conversations such as: how do we raise happy, healthy children? How do we live well? How do we work well? How do we age well? How do we die with dignity? Come and be a part of this and let us shape a better future for everyone.
Here in Morecambe Bay, we are trying to develop a strategy around Population Health – by that we mean we want to take a much broader view of the health needs of those who live in this area, ensuring that we try to tackle the disparities we see in the health of our population. In my opinion this needs a three fold approach.
Firstly, we need to get our own house in order. We know there is work
for us to do as a health system when it comes to ensuring we’re proactive with people’s health. With the resources we have available, we need to ensure that we are treating preventable conditions as well as possible and use the best evidenced-based approach to the care we are delivering. That is why, the excellent Medical Director of UHMB, Dr David Walker, with his vast experiencing in Public Health, is helping us focus on making a significant difference to preventing Strokes (CVAs – Cerebro-Vascular Accidents) across the Bay this year. We are making a concerted effort to ensure that all our patients are getting the necessary pulse checks, blood pressure checks, blood tests and appropriate medications to monitor and manage conditions which can lead to devastating consequences if left untreated or mismanaged. Within this, we are encouraging people to know more about the conditions they live with, understand them and take responsibility to ensure that they are caring for their own health.
Secondly, we are working with people across the Bay to live more healthy lives. We continue to see more and more children running a mile a day and hope that this will soon become the Morecambe Bay Mile, in which it becomes the norm for everyone who lives here to move a mile a day. Our sedentary lifestyles are hugely affecting our health and we’re wanting to encourage all business owners and leaders to ensure that staff have time to be active every day. On top of this we’re starting to work with schools around healthy eating and involved in projects with supermarkets to enable people to make more healthy choices in the face of fierce advertising. We’re also working with high schools around mental health issues and seeing many community initiatives springing up, run by the community for the community, which will improve the wellbeing of all. All of this is backed by our ‘Flourish’ work in our hospitals and ‘Let’s Work Well’ in the community, in which NHS staff are leading by example in changing the way that we work and live.
Thirdly, however, we need to dig deeper. We keep trying to put a sticky plaster over the great pus-filled abscesses that are the leading causes of ill health in our country. Traditionally we have paid much of our attention to dealing with the symptoms of ill health, and whilst thinking about the root causes, we have simply not putting anyway near enough time, energy, or resource into tackling them. The reason for this is two fold: firstly, health and social policy is directed far too much by the political cycle and the short term gains that can proven in small time windows – so we keep tackling symptoms because we can then prove how effective we are!; secondly, in truth, we don’t actually know how to tackle some of the issues and those of us in leadership roles are far too clever and proud to admit that we don’t know how to fix them and that we need to find a new way together, with the communities of which we are a part.
I was having a conversation with Cormac Russell the other day, via twitter, and he gave me this beautiful quote by Ivan Illich: “I believe it is time to state clearly that specific situations and circumstances are “sickening”, rather than that people themselves are sick. The symptoms which modern medicine attempts to treat often have little to do with the condition of our bodies; they are, rather, signals pointing to the disorders and presumptions of modern ways of working, playing and living.”
The reality is that many of the determinants of our health and especially of the health inequalities we see in our society have little to do with the availability or quality of services. No, the biggest factors affecting the health gap in this (and every) area are poverty, housing, loneliness, hopelessness and adverse childhood experiences. If we’re not careful, we end up thinking the real issues are waiting times in the ED, difficulties discharging people from hospital, breaking the 18 week target for hip and knee operations and ensuring there are enough GP appointments at weekends. We must not look at the symptoms and believe that if we tackle these surface issues then we will automatically have better health outcomes for all. Here in the Bay, we are trying to be brave enough to take off the sticky plaster and gaze into the festering wounds in our society, so that we can begin to really do some deep debridement of them and allow real healing to ensue.
That is why my team are focusing on hosting conversations that matter across our communities and seeking to co-create a social movement. Using the ‘Art of Hosting’ we are holding spaces open in which rich conversations can happen. “We don’t just want people to be more healthy and well – many people don’t even know what that means”, as an amazing woman called Gill, from the West End of Morecambe told us recently, “No, we want everyone to be able to experience life to the full, whatever that means for them”. We can’t do this simply by having good clinical strategies – we need something far more holistic and it will involve all of us. We need to start our conversations together with appreciative inquiry. What is already going well? What can we learn from here? Knowing what is good, however, is not enough – we must go further, dig deeper and get to grips with some extremely difficult issues.
When it comes to Poverty, here in Morecambe Bay, we are trying out new economies (like time banking) and having challenging conversations. The Poverty Truth Commission is causing is to really listen to those with lived experience of poverty and learn to co-create and co-commission services, rather than presuming that the ‘experts’ know best.
When it comes to homelessness, inspired by the work in Alberta Canada (https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/find-out-how-this-canadian-city-has-eliminated-homelessness/) and the Manchester Homelessness Charter (https://charter.streetsupport.net/) – we’re beginning to explore ‘housing first’ for Morecambe Bay, but imagining what it might be like with extra support in place from a caring community like ‘The Well’ in Morecambe and Barrow (https://www.thewellcommunities.co.uk/). I’m so pleased that Dave Higham is provoking this conversation for us here and I’m excited to see where a conversation between those with lived experience of homelessness, poverty and addiction, along with some of us in the public sector, might take us. There’s a challenge to all of us in society – we like the sound of these kind of things, but not in our own backyard….our values must begin to align with our actions. Love without action is not really love.
And what about loneliness and hopelessness? More than ever, we need connection across the generations, turning off our screens and actually being together as humans. In Morecambe we are seeing the launch of the new Morecambe Fringe in September, bringing people together around Comedy and the Arts. More Music are doing incredible work with young people. There are amazing community initiatives right around the Bay. We have loads of festivals connecting people across the district. And what is the role of business here? We need businesses to think abut what kind of enterprise we could see emerge for the youth in our area. Are there more opportunities for mentoring? We have left many of our young people to boredom and with few aspirations. With the help of Stanley’s Youth Centre and the great heart of Yak Patel, we hope to host many conversations with young people to really listen to what it is we could create together to break these problems and build community and hope.
What are we together going to do about the huge issue that is child abuse? We don’t have answers, but we do have questions – and we need to keep asking them. We know that the mental and physical consequences of abuse are utterly devastating and we find it hard to talk about because it affects so many of us. But our interventions are happening too little, too late, and we are missing the vast majority of cases. Our services simply cannot cope with the volume and serious case reviews tell us the same lessons nearly every time. So what? What are we going to do differently? There are definitely things that the public services can do better – but not when our resources are being stripped. What is especially terrible about the cuts to services in our most deprived areas is that ACEs cause poverty, homelessness, isolation and ill health! As a team, we take this really seriously and will be hosting discussions in our schools and local communities about how we raise happy, healthy children. Where is help needed? We’ve become so focused on grades and outcomes in schools…..but do we teach people what to do with their anger? Do we focus enough on values? Are there enough parenting (the hardest job in the world) classes – and if so, are they hitting the mark? What do we need to do differently? We know the situations in which children are more likely to suffer – so what? Have we become so focused on getting people into work that we’ve forgotten just how important parenting is? And if we know that ACE is such a massive issue, are we really making the right choices in terms of what therapies we’re making available for those who have suffered them?
Is it the role of those of us in healthcare to get involved in these discussions? YES! It is the role of all of us in society. Together, we must reimagine the future. We all know that prevention is better than cure, but our short-termism is stopping us from finding the kind of positive solutions that will really make a difference. In face of downward pressure from hierarchical powers, it is tough to make brave decisions to invest in the future, rather than cut our way to balancing the books. But if we really care about the health and wellbeing of our communities, then we have to stop the sticking plaster approach and clean out the gangrenous wounds in our society. We have to deal with the root and not the fruit.