To Hull and Back

Last week I had the complete joy (except for the awfulness that is the M6 and M62!) of heading over to Hull to speak at a gathering of Public Health and Public Sector people from across Yorkshire, The Humber and The East Riding, called “Minding the Gap”, hosted by the amazing Ian Copley. In my next blog, I will give the podcast of what I said and written piece, for those who prefer that format, about Population Health and the realities we are currently facing.

 

However, I thought it just worth reflecting on a really interesting lecture I heard by Prof Franco Bianchini from Hull University (https://www.hull.ac.uk/work-with-us/research/institutes/culture-place-and-policy-institute/culture-place-and-policy-institute.aspx) on the impact of Hull being European City of Culture 2017. It was amazing to see this little video, presented by the excellent Director of Public Health, Julia Weldon (https://www.yhphnetwork.co.uk/about-us/julia-weldon/), and to hear of so many wonderful, creative, life-giving, community-building initiatives that happened all over the City and the beautiful stories of people celebrating the history and many facets of this place. 

 

The sense of wellbeing and happiness in the City increased significantly during that year (not much of a surprise) and the injection of finance into Hull gave opportunity for some creative regeneration and fantastic projects. Unfortunately, since 2017, the overall sense of Wellbeing and happiness has now fallen to below what it was in the years preceding Hull as the City of Culture. What a shame! And interestingly, if you study other Cities that host Olympics, Commonwealth Games, or have other similar initiatives, you see the same pattern over and over. The hype wanes, the carnival moves on and what is left?

 

There is so much we can learn from this, if we want to. Firstly, if we only plan for an event and do not think about it as an agent of transformation for the future, then we risk sowing huge promise and then once the event finishes, things just go back to being the same old, breeding disappointment and disillusionment. This must be taken into account in the planning. Becoming a City of Culture gives the opportunity for a City to come together, not only for an event, but to turn the future of the city, releasing dreams of what it can become. This requires much wider ownership and community conversations about keeping the momentum and building on it. Secondly, leaders across the city need to own the future and hold true to the principles, especially once the funding is withdrawn. It’s really sad that the vast majority of schools have not felt able to continue the great initiatives in the creative arts or sports, which began and were having a great effect on children and young people’s physical and mental health, due to the pressures they feel around delivery of the curriculum. Surely there was an opportunity to reimagine the whole realm of what education might look like in the City of Hull, aligned to the values of the City and its hope for the future?

 

In the Jewish tradition, at certain points along their journey from Egypt to Israel, the people would build an ‘Ebenezer’. It was a pile of stones to mark a certain point on their journey that would help them remember what was past and what they were looking forward to. It was more than a monument. It was a stake in the ground which called to memory where they had come from, what they had been through but also opened up an altogether different future. My hope for Hull, is that 2017 City of Culture becomes an Ebenezer for the city, something they can look back on and say – “that’s when things really began to change, that’s when we celebrated our past but began to build a new future together, a city that really works for everyone and the environment we live in!” I fear, however, that the opposite will be true….a temporary flash in the pan and then back to the same old, same old……

 

I hope with all my heart that it isn’t too late for Hull to regain this momentum and despite the lack of funding (although this begs whole new questions about devolution) for the city to take hold of the promise of what could be. I also really hope that Coventry (the city of my birth) really hears and learns from the lessons of Hull and begins now to think of being the City of Culture 2021 to springboard into a new future for the city, rather than have yet another event that feels good in the moment, but does not bring the transformation of the City that is so desperately needed. Now is the time for Coventry to dream and to think creatively about what this opportunity really might become. 

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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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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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Health and Society – Can we make a Difference? Part 1 – Economics

Tweet If we want to make a difference to health and wellbeing in society, tackling health inequalities, whilst protecting the health and wellbeing of the environment and creating a fair and just save for humanity…..we have to ask ourselves some searching questions about whether or not our current economic models are really fit for purpose. [Continue Reading …]

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Creating a Great Culture – Part 1

Tweet I’ve recently finished reading the extraordinary book, “Legacy”, by James Kerr. It is a book about the culture of The All Blacks, the most “successful” sports team in the world. If you are involved in leadership, at any level, especially if you are passionate about developing the culture of your team, I would heartily [Continue Reading …]

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Who is Responsible for Your Health?

Tweet 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 [Continue Reading …]

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What Next for General Practice?

Tweet 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 [Continue Reading …]

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Hosting Conversations That Matter

Tweet 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 [Continue Reading …]

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Social Movements and the Future of Healthcare

Tweet As the crisis in the Western World deepens, and the growing reality sets in that business as usual simply can no longer continue nor solve our problems, our systems must change the way they view, deal with and hold onto power. The NHS is no exception. If we want a health and social care [Continue Reading …]

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The Art of Hosting Good Conversations – Morecambe

Tweet Here is a video about a brilliant couple of days a bunch of us had in Morecambe, talking about how we discover what it is to be healthy and be part of a social movement to improve the health and wellbeing of everyone: Share This:

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