Population Health and the NHS 10 Year Plan

https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/publications/nhs-10-year-plan

 

This is an excellent blog from Sir Chris Ham and Richard Murray at the Kingsfund and highlights some important issues that deserve real consideration and debate. Get a cup of tea, reflect on it and then join the discussion. Here are my reflections on it.

 

Improving population health and closing the health inequlaity gap are the two most important things for the NHS to focus on, if we are to have a heath and care service that works for everyone and is sustainable long into the future. It is not an easy nettle to grasp and is full of complexity, which is highlighted in this paper, but fundamentally, if we do not see a cultural shift, and ownership of these issues across the public sector, with population (and environmental) health written into every policy combined with a collaborative social movement for change, we will still be talking about this in another 15 years.

 

The reorganisations of the last few decades have been exhausting at so many levels and have not achieved what we have needed them to. It is indeed vital that we learn from these lessons and commit to at least a 10 year focus on improving population health, tackling health inequalities and integrating services, ensuring that we embed a culture of joy, kindness and excellence as we do so. We have reached a pivotal moment and we must break through our silos and see things tip towards a new commitment to improve the population’s health, together.

 

The funding question will not go away and it is really important that we are honest and open about what is actually going to be possible within the new funding agreement for the NHS and what will not be, especially if there is not a substantial investment into Social Care. Much of what we mean by prevention in Population Health relies heavily on other public sector partners, like Public Health, Education and the Police and the reality of their funding decline will make the transformation we need to see, especially in young people’s mental health very difficult, especially as the new deal for the NHS is not what it needs to be. For many Integrated Care Systems, the savings still required are so colossal that doing the simulataneous transformational work of population health and tackling the widening health inequality gap is a very hard task. It is a huge ask of finance directors to meet the constant demands of the regulators whilst also trying to be brave and shift resource towards more long term gains that do not meet the short termism of yearly budget requirements. The increase in demand due to more frailty and complex health issues, eye watering cuts to local government budgets (with profound knock-on effects to social care and public health), a target driven environment and low staff morale is making this all very difficult. It is not impossible but it is going to need realism and pragmatism about what can be achieved, by when. The choices being made about the funding of our public services are ideologically driven, and we need to ensure that feedback about the reality of austerity leads to necessary changes, so that we can have truly evidenced based policies.

 

Here in Morecambe Bay, we have recently launched the ‘Poverty Truth Commission’, one of several around the country. Many leaders from across our region sat with tears streaming down our faces as we heard story after story about the reality of poverty and destitution for people in our area. We heard from one young man, Daniel about how the closing of the youth centre on his estate and his local high school (both the only places where he knew he belonged and was safe), left him and many of his friends vulnerable to gangs. Moved, again and again through private rented housing, in order to provide for his siblings, he ended up selling drugs and guns, simply to put food on the table, ending up street homeless, with serious addiction problems himself. Many of us wondered how often we think about the short and long term consequences of the cuts being made and what kind of risk assessment is done in these situations. In her very powerful book, ‘Radical Help’, Hilary Cottam writes of need to put relationship back into the heart of our public service care provision, as we grapple with the joint issues of funding constraints and human need.

 

The points raised about improving productivity are important. Where we can be more efficient, we must continue to be so. Let’s pause to recognise, though, just how much has been achieved already. Culturally, we must learn to celebrate the positives and recognise the great work already being done in this area, which will inspire more of the same. The sharing of best practice and creating environments where we can learn from one another is absolutely key. This will most effectively happen through collaboration not competition. So, yes – integration must be a priority, but it comes with a health warning – if we don’t get culture right from the start, everything else will ultimately fail.

 

A Population Health approach is the only game in town. Wigan have achieved some really wonderful things, but there are some important things to understand about the context of Wigan that have made it more possible there. Firstly, there is clear political unity. The idea of population health is owned across all spheres and levels of government, and “safe seats” have led to a political continuity that has made long term planning far more successful. The ongoing politicisation of health and social care in other contexts makes this kind of transformation much more difficult. Secondly, there is a real humility in style of leadership that has been willing to a) openly share the complex issues and choices being faced, with the people of Wigan and b) deeply listen to the communities and therefore find a way through the problems together with a profound sense of joint ownership. It is this two-edged sword of necessary culture change and brave leadership with a social movement that makes it possible to cut into new ground together. We must be brave in talking to people in our local communities about the choices ahead of us and understand the importance of agreeing together who is going to take responsibility for the various pieces of th jigsaw which need to occur.

 

We know that 40% of our health depends on the every day choices we make as individuals, for example around what we eat or how much exercise we take. However, it is not as lovely and simple as this. There is far less choice available for our most deprived communities. Supermarkets do not stack the same amount of healthy food in their shops in our more deprived areas. Children have little choice over the adverse experiences they go through, how much sugar is in their breakfast cereal nor what is pushed at them through targeted advertising. The number of junk food outlets is far higher in areas of greater deprivation (see Greg Fell’s excellent analysis of Sheffield). So, when we talk about choice, especially in the context of poverty and education, we need to take a reality check and not simply point the finger of responsibility. This is where a people’s charter can be really powerful. Those in leadership play their part in taking care of the needs of the population and bringing in appropriate governance and a fair distribution of resource, whilst citizens commit to playing their part in staying healthy and well, and learning about conditions which they live with, so they can play an active role in being as well as possible, dependent on their circumstance.

 

Given the lessons from Wigan, or from global cities, like Manchester, and Amsterdam and what they are beginning to achieve around population health, there is a powerful argument, not only for combined health and social care budgets, but also for increased devolution of budgets. If we see what has been achieved in the Black Forest of Germany, with a very holistic transformation of services, including the connecting of communities through far improved transport links, we begin to reimagine what might be possible at a larger scale. Devolved budgets though must be a fair deal and not an opportunity for central government to make further cuts and then leave the blame in the locality. Devolution, if it is to work well, must come with new and fair legislation around taxation and proportionate allocation of resources.

 

All of this is only possible with the right workforce. I completely agree that we need both short-term and long-term strategies. I am not yet confident that enough work is being done at a predictive analytical level to really work out what kind of workforce we will require, if we shift to a fully integrated, population health model. This is the kind of workforce we must then build and it will by its very nature, be much more community and relationally focussed. This will allow us to build culture from the ground up and create the kind of working environments that are healthy and well, enjoyable to work in and therefore with a high retention level of staff. Perhaps our short term solutions need to be less reactionary and more proactive in building towards the future we need. Perhaps there are also more short term international opportunities and partnerships to be built whilst we plan for our reimagined future.

 

In making all of this happen, I think we need a little caution in too much over-comparrison with the American insurance-based systems. The ICS development we see there is based on a very different model and can look very appealing, because it overlooks too readily the 50million Americans who cannot afford a decent level of care. Yes, there are some impressive things to learn and some very data savvy things we can apply into our systems, but the fundamental differences between our ideologies and practices must cause us to pause and think about what is transferable and what we can do diffferently to ensure that everything we do works to close the health inequality gap, rather than widen it. This is where our greatest test will be. It is too easy when creating new agreements with the public to work with those who are already highly motivated to change. In so doing, we might actually make things worse, rather than better in terms of inequality. It is going to take determined effort and brave focus to ensure this doesn’t happen.

 

In short (!) I am very grateful for this paper and the issues it highlights. It deserves real contemplative reflection and a commitment by all to embrace this future together. We cannot achieve population health and the tackling of health inequalities alone, but together, we can.

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Facing Our Past, Finding a Better Future – Adverse Childhood Experiences

This week I had the privilege of listening to Prof Warren Larkin, advisor to the Department of Health on Adverse Childhood Experiences. This is something I’ve written about on this blog before and Warren has made me more determined than ever to keep talking about this profoundly important issue. This blog draws on his wisdom and learning.

I believe that Adverse Childhood Experiences are our most important Public Health issue. So I want to be really clear about what they are, how and why they affect us so deeply, where we can find help if we’ve been affected by them and how together we can change the future, by preventing them.

 

What Are Adverse Childhood Experiences?

 

• Physical abuse
• Sexual Abuse
• Emotional Abuse
• Living with someone who abused drugs
• Living with someone who abused alcohol
• Exposure to domestic violence
• Living with someone who was incarcerated
• Living with someone with serious mental illness
• Parental loss through divorce, death or abandonment

 

How Common Are They?

 

The answer is – far too common. There have been some really wide ranging studies across the UK and USA into the numbers of us who have experienced ACEs, and it’s not just in our “most deprived communities” but in predominantly white, middle class areas where we see the stark statistics. Depending on the study you read, between 50 and 65% have experienced at least one ACE. And shockingly 1 in 10 of us have experienced more than 4.

 

How and Why Do They Effect Us?

 

Firstly, they affect us by quantity. The more ACEs we experience, the worse our physical, mental and social health and wellbeing is. If you have experienced one ACE, you have an 86% chance of being subject to several. If you experience more than 4, your health and wellbeing is significantly affected. If you experience more than 6 then you have a 46 times higher chance of becoming an IV drug abuser, a 35 times higher chance of committing suicide and an overall 20 year decrease in life expectancy.

 

Secondly, the toxic stress levels significantly change the way in which our brains grow and function. This has a profound impact on our day to day functioning. ACEs are a massive cause of absenteeism from work, high cost to the health and social care system and highly predictive of time behind bars. That is why so many of us have complex relationships with things like food. Losing weight, for example, is not as straight forward as eating less, exercising more or ending up with a gastric band. Did you know that suicide rates are massively increased after bariatric surgery? By removing the ability to eat, the very thing that takes away or comforts the pain, we expose the underlying issue, but provide no healing into that void.

 

Thirdly, our bodies literally keep the score of the negative experiences. So, we become more likely to develop chronic pain, inflammatory conditions, heart disease, cancer and mental health issues.

 

Fourthly, the toxic stress actually alters the way our DNA works and therefore changes the genetic information that we pass onto future generations. As an example, domestic violence in pregnancy is predictive of child developmental issues and offspring of the survivors of the holocaust or genocide are far more likely to develop chronic anxiety. This highlights just how important our family history really is.

 

Fifthly, there are proven things we can do a) to help our brains learn how to cope in the midst of really difficult circumstances (resilience) and b) therapeutic interventions that can genuinely heal us.

 

Where Can We Find Help?

 

Here’s the thing – this is where the rubber hits the road.

 

Many of us, who have experienced difficult things in childhood/adolescence never talk about them. Sometimes that’s because we can’t remember the experiences – they happen to us before our memories fully form. But perhaps more frequently we bury them because we don’t want to talk about the deeply painful memories, we don’t know how to or we’re worried about what might happen to us, or the people who caused us the pain if we do. And how do you start a conversation like that anyway? What? Are you going to just blurt it out to someone? And what on earth will you do if you just start crying in the middle of a restaurant when you talk to your girlfriend/boyfriend about what happened to you? And what about all those complicated associated feelings of shame, guilt, fear, thoughts of rejection? So…..we keep the lid on….even though it’s to our own detriment because we don’t know how to bring it into the open.

 

And here in lies the starting place. It’s vital that we learn this in the world of health and social care, but actually we all need to hear this incredible truth. Various studies have shown that it takes 9-16 years for people to be able to talk about trauma/abuse they experienced, but most never do. Fraser and Read found that in their patients struggling with mental health issues, only 8% of them volunteered that they had experienced ACEs. However, when they were actually asked about this, 82% then talked about ACEs they had experienced. So? So, we find it almost impossible to talk about, but when someone asks us about what we have lived through, it takes the lid off the box, peels the sticky plaster off the deep wound and allows us to begin talking about our pain. And here’s something really remarkable……Felitti and Andra found in a study of 140000 people that simply by routinely asking all patients about ACEs, they saw a 35% decrease in visits to the GP and an 11% reduction in use of the Emergency Department!

 

What does that mean? It means that giving someone the chance to talk about their journey, what they have been through, breaking the cycle of shame, fear and rejection is, in and of itself, deeply healing! Knowing that you’re not a freak, knowing that it wasn’t your fault, knowing that it doesn’t mean that you yourself will become an abuser/alcoholic/poor parent and many more realisations can make a significant difference to a person’s wellbeing. Maybe it doesn’t have to wait for a GP’s surgery or a counsellor’s chair. Maybe, just maybe if we all care enough to ask each other deeper and more caring questions we can help to heal each other. I know this is true of my own journey and that of many of my friends.

 

But let’s not be naive. For some of us, the experiences we have had are so horrific that we are stuck in a moment and we can’t get out of it. And this is where good therapy really comes in. I wonder if we invested more in therapy and less in drugs to numb our pain, how much more healed we might be – perhaps more expensive in the short term, but overall the cost is far less, both for the individual and society as a whole. There is help available and it can take many forms. EMDR, Trauma Focussed-CBT, Bereavement Counselling and even things like working through a forgiveness process. Unfortunately, many of the waiting lists are very long, and private options are way too expensive for most people to afford.

 

So, Can We Change The Future?

 

You know that I believe together we can! But it’s not going to be easy, especially not in the context of our floundering social services, restrictive school curriculums, reduction in numbers of health visitors and school nurses, eye watering cuts to public health budgets and significantly stretched CAMHS and Adult Mental Health Teams. And I think we have to very real and honest about that, because if this is such a massive issue in our society (and the data and evidence is astounding) then we need, as Warren Larkin so eloquently argues, genuine commitment from leaders and organisations to shift towards a culture of learning and collaboration to bring about change.

 

Here are some things we need to do together:

 

1) Own up to what a massive issue this is.

2) We need to learn how to ask our friends better questions and care enough to listen to each other’s experiences and journeys because it is really hard to know how to start talking about ACEs, but is more possible when someone bothers to ask!

3) We need to recognise that by bottling things up, we do further harm to ourselves. Perhaps some of our complex addictive patterns of behaviour, our mental health issues, our physical pain and symptoms might well be linked to the ACEs we have experienced. So maybe we don’t need a life on painkillers, cigarettes or with a complex addictive behaviour patterns. Maybe we can find a way to deeper healing.

4) In health and social care, we need to adopt REACh (routine enquiry about adversity in childhood) – we need to change the way we take histories from patients and ask better questions. Remember that even by asking, it doesn’t open up scary and messy consultations that we don’t have time for, actually it opens up a therapeutic space which can massively alter how a person goes on to use the health service in the future.

5) We need to ensure schools are more vigilant to thinking that ‘naughty’ or ‘difficult’ children are actually highly likely to be in a state of hyper vigilance due to stressful things they are experiencing at home. Expecting them to ‘focus, behave and get on with it’, is not only unrealistic, it’s actually unkind. Simply recognising that kids might be having a really hard time, giving them space to talk about it with someone skilled, teaching them some resilience and finding a way to work with their parents/carers via the school nurse/social worker could make a lifetime of difference. It is far more important that our kids leave school knowing they are loved, with a real sense of self-esteem and belonging than with good SATS scores or GCSEs. The academic stuff can come later if necessary and we need to get far better at accepting this.

6) Parenting classes should not just be for the well-motivated or struggling. They should be for all of us – a routine part of antenatal care and alongside our children’s education and include help in dealing with previous ACEs, so they are not repeated for the next generation. Prevention is possible. And that means we need to learn to be a whole lot less judgemental and a great deal more open, honest, vulnerable and restorative with each other. One of my best memories of growing up, was going to a “foster home” for families that my mum used to work with and seeing parents being given the chance to learn how to love their kids, rather than have them taken off them. I know sometimes there is no choice, but helping people learn how to be family and to love and cherish their children is a really beautiful thing. When there has been generational abuse, it is is also of the upmost importance. I’m not saying that a child should never be removed, but we can hardly say that our care system is a rip-roaring success story.

7) We need to find a way of working with men and women in our prisons that enables them to find a way to healing and restoration, not retribution for what are often extremely complex stories.

8) We must learn from best practice around the world. For example, did you know that the vast majority of paediphiles begin offending at the age of 14?! Most of them do not go on to become prolific offenders, but the damage caused to the child they abuse is obviously significant. There is some amazing work now going on in Pennsylvania which has shown that you can actually prevent young men from becoming offenders in the first place. Simply by doing some better sex education, explaining to boys about testosterone, the urges they are having and who it is appropriate to perform sexual acts with; alongside creating a really safe space where they can come and talk about feelings they are having (a bit like AA – with no ridicule or judgement) – data shows that you can decrease the incidence of child sexual abuse. We have to learn from this kind of approach and find a better way of talking about difficult issues. Prevention IS possible!

9) We need to find a way to fund more psychological therapies and become much less reliant on drugs to numb the pain with the associated colossal bill paid to Big Pharma.

 

 

This is an area I am really passionate about. I am committing to keep this conversation alive, to ensure that we make a shift in our organisations towards a REACh approach, to find a deeper and more effective partnership with colleagues in education, social services and the police and to create space for more training and awareness for all our staff teams. I know how painful this conversation is, but I also know how utterly damaging it will be if we don’t change the future and prevent this from being a perpetual story through the generations. It is time for the hearts of the elders to turn to the children. Together we can reimagine the future. Together we can.

 

 

Here is a really helpful film:

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Never Let a Good Crisis Go to Waste

Tweet So, the NHS is in another winter crisis. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a crisis  as: 1 A time of intense difficulty or danger. ‘the current economic crisis’ Mass noun ‘the monarchy was in crisis’ 1.1 A time when a difficult or important decision must be made. As modifier ‘the situation has reached crisis point’ [Continue Reading …]

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NHS or IHS?

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Our Nation’s Biggest Public Health Problem

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The Nazi Dog Experiment

Tweet Do you know the story of the Nazi Dog Experiment? The Nazis found that if they inflicted a group of dogs with pain through electrocution, 1/3 of them would lie down hopelessly and do what they were told. 1/3 would keep a fighting spirit no matter how much pain they were put under. The [Continue Reading …]

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