A Vision for Population Health and Wellbeing – All Together We Can

If you haven’t yet had the chance to read the Kings Fund’s vision for population health (and it’s the kind of thing that interests you) then I would heartily recommend that you do so. (https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/publications/vision-population-health). It is a real ‘Tour de Force’ and deserves some significant consideration. I like it because it doesn’t hold back from bringing some hard-hitting challenge, but also creates hope of what is possible. 

 

Last week, whilst I was in Hull, I unpacked some of my (many) thoughts about population health, drawing on the wisdom of this report, the significant challenges we face and the opportunity we have to reimagine the future, together with our communities. I was hoping to offer it as a podcast, but it didn’t record well! This is quite a long read, but I hope encapsulates the key issues and gives us plenty to wrestle with and discuss, reflecting on the great piece of work from the Kingsfund. 

 

When it comes to population health, we have to remember, especially when we look at a global stage, that the UK has had some of the best public health in the world. We have so much to be grateful for and have had some incredible breakthroughs in our health and wellbeing over the last 200 years. Consider how our life expectancy has increased, initially through the great improvements in clean water, sanitation and immunisations and then the emergence of the NHS, with free healthcare for all, no matter of ability to pay, and subsequent lifesaving interventions in the areas like hypertension and diabetes – we’ve come a long way, though there is still plenty of work to do! 

 

However, there is a lesson in humility that we need to take from the All Blacks (consistently the greatest sports team in the world). After successive world cups, which they should have won, they had to take a good, long and hard look at themselves and face up to this uncomfortable truth – they were losing! (and I imagine after the mighty victory of the Irish against them recently, they may be having the same conversation again). We have to face up to the fact that right now, in terms of population health, especially around health inequalities, we are losing and we’re losing BIG. 1 in 200 of us is currently homeless. Childhood poverty is increasing year on year and many of our children go hungry on a daily basis. According to the Food Foundation, our poorest 5th of households would have to spend 43% of their entire income to eat the government’s recommended ‘healthy diet’. Much of our housing stock is unfit to live in. Our healthy life expectancy gap between the rich and the poor is nearly 20 years, with a shocking difference between the North and the South. We have a mental health crisis in our young people, with suicide the leading cause of death by some mile in Males under 45. And to top it all, we have a severe shortage of staff in the NHS and our public services which make it actually impossible to continue the level of service required by the heavy target-driven culture of Whitehall. 

 

To continue trying to deliver the same services in the same way, when these issues are so starkly in front of us, is beyond insanity. We simply cannot continue to continue with business as usual and think that we will achieve anything different or new. This is why I like the 4 interlocking pillars the Kingsfund recommend when thinking about population health and I will unpack some thoughts about each one. 

 

The Wider Determinants of Health

 

Before I start on this section, it is really important for me to state that despite what others have at times accused me of, I am not actually a member of any political party and so when I write things which challenge current government policy or praxis I am not trying to score political points. In fact, I believe it is one of the key purposes of (health) leadership to call out when decision making processes are harming the health and wellbeing of the population (whether intentionally or not). Indeed, the same would apply, whoever was in (seeming) power. 

 

When it comes to tackling the issues of population health, dealing with health inequalities and ensuring that the health and wellbeing of all people and the planet is taken into account in every government policy, the current administration is found sorely wanting. No matter what is peddled out about the “successes” of Universal Credit (which I do actually believe was introduced with some good intentions), it is failing and will continue to fail as necessary safeguards are not being put in place. Since the introduction of UC, we have seen a staggering rise in the use of food banks. Families, especially children are going hungry and the financially poorest in our society are not having their basic nutritional needs met. Since 2010, we have seen childhood poverty rise and the health inequalities gap widen. Much of this is owing to the burden of austerity being carried primarily by our poorest communities. In this same time period, we have seen the loss of overall goals for population health and no clear directives or measures to encourage change. In fact, many of the more project and target driven approaches to population health are often the very things that cause a worsening of health inequalities, like child obesity initiatives, because they do not focus on the wider determinants of health like poverty, housing and planning. 

 

On one level, we should applaud Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care for encouraging the NHS to get into the game of prevention. However, a mirror then needs holding back up to the government to examine what this really means. It is clear that the current ‘rise’ in funding for the NHS, won’t even enable business to continue as usual (and one might argue that’s a good thing, because we need to change business as usual – except for the fact that there is no letting up on the drivers and targets from the Department of Health that continue to maintain the current modus operandi). The £3.4 billion per year increase won’t even touch the hole in our acute hospital trusts, let alone account for the whopping >49% of total cuts from local government (more than £18 billion in total, with more to follow), who are absolutely instrumental in tackling the wider determinants of health and wellbeing. Public Health, which has always been so vital to the work of prevention has been decimated within local governments, who are struggling to keep their statuary services up and running. So, no, it’s not actually that straightforward for the NHS just to now take on the responsibility of prevention, as the social determinants and wider economic issues, including funding aspects, are an absolutely vital component of getting population health right and asking the NHS to do so, simply piles more pressure on an already stretched and burned out workforce. An ending of austerity and an appropriate level of funding is vital if we are to achieve population health, uncomfortable truth for the government, though this may be.

 

Our Choices, Behaviours and Lifestyles

 

There is a worrying rhetoric finding voice that ‘people should just make better choices and take more responsibility for themselves’, but this is simply far less possible for so many of our communities than others, as a direct result of policy decisions and economic models over which they have no power or control. 

 

One one level, no one would argue that each of us has at least some level of responsibility to make positive lifestyle choices, make good decisions about what we put into our bodies and how much exercise we do or don’t take. But we must remember that this is so much easier for vast swathes of our population than others. 

 

There is plenty of evidence though that helps the NHS think about where to focus when it comes to population health management – where we can make the most difference. These areas include: smoking, alcohol, high sugar intake, high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation, high cholesterol (currently hotly debated!), healthy weight and positive mental health. Remember though, Sandro Galea’s work on ubiquitous factors! It is possible to focus in on projects like these and make health inequalities worse! These things cannot be done in isolation, but must be part of a wider vision. The temptation will be for governments to focus on these narrow interventions and claim great statistical significance whilst still not dealing the root issues. 

 

It is in this that again, we need to see the government come up trumps. Targeted and smart taxation can have a massive impact on the choices we make – we know this through the massive breakthrough we’ve seen in smoking in recent years. The same now needs to be applied to the highly influential, powerful and dangerous sugar industry. A best next step, according to Professor Susan Jebb, from Oxford University, would be to put a substantial tax on biscuits and cakes. Like it or not, along with our carb obsession, these are our biggest downfall and if the government are actually serious about tackling our ‘obesity epidemic’ then they need to break any cosy ties with this industry and stop the nonsense about being too much of a nanny state. Public opinion, which apparently hates the nanny state, thinks the smoking intervention was fantastic and the benefit is clear. The role of government is to see what damages our health and work with us to help modify that behaviour. 

 

An Integrated Health and Care System

 

There are plenty of places around the country where we can now begin to see the potential and power of working together differently. In the UK, Wigan, with great leadership from the likes of Kate Ardern, tells a powerful story of how incredible things can happen when population health is owned by everyone and a social movement is born. Manchester, with its devolved budget, political stability and holistically embedded view of population health championed by the Mayor of the City, Andy Burnham is a fine example of how working together differently can really offer some exciting possibilities. He recently said this:

“As Secretary of State for Health, you can have a vision for health services. As Mayor of Greater Manchester, you can have a vision for people’s health. There is a world of difference between the two!”

 

In Morecambe Bay, as an integrated care partnership within the wider Lancashire and South Cumbria ICS, we have already found some huge benefits in working more closely together. It gives us an opportunity to find solutions to the wicked issues we face through collaboration and combined wisdom, rather than through competition and suspicion. 

 

The integration is important at the macro level (where decision making and budgeting occurs), as well as in the micro level in our neighbourhoods. Our Integrated Care Communities in Morecambe Bay are without doubt one the instrumental building blocks we have to reimagining how we can deliver care more effectively for our communities. In each of our 9 areas around the Bay we have teams involving GPs, the hospital trust, social workers, allied health professionals (physios, OTs), police, fire service, community nursing, community and voluntary teams, faith organisations, and councillors working together for the good of our local neighbourhoods. 

 

The Places and Communities we Live in and With

 

Place is hugely important and so is community. Isolation literally kills us. We have certainly found in Morecambe Bay, that choosing to work differently WITH our communities, rather than doing things to them is fundamental in being holistic when it comes to Population Health and Wellbeing. It has meant learning to take our lanyards from around our necks, getting out of our board rooms (where traditionally we take decisions on behalf of people) and embracing humility as we learn to listen to and partner with our communities. One book I have found really helpful, personally has been ‘The Nazareth Manifesto’ by Samuel Wells. He is considered by some to be the ‘greatest living theologian’, and I consider it to be of vital importance for us to think and engage with these issues of heath and wellbeing as widely as possible, including theology, philosophy, sociology and economics, to help challenge and inform the necessary mindset shifts which are needed. Wells writes that for him, the entire Christian story is encapsulated in these 4 words: “God is with us”. Whatever, you happen to believe about God, there is certainly a majority view that if there is a God, he tends to be quite aloof, distant, hierarchical, dominating, controlling and power-crazy, if not seriously vengeful at times – and interestingly, we often refer to some leader-types as having a ‘God complex’! But if God is not like that, but is primarily about being WITH people, not over them, working WITH them rather than doing things to them, that has huge implications on much of western thought and how we set up leadership and governmental institutions! 

 

Hilary Cottam’s book, Radical Help and Jeremy Heiman’s and Henry Timms’ insights in New Power are both vital reading in really engaging with this whole concept. We need to radically embrace the fundamental truth of relationship as an agent for good and change in our society. Our public services have become devoid of real and genuine relationships with our communities. 

 

Over the last 3 years as we have had many conversations around Morecambe Bay, being honest about the financial predicament we find ourselves in (needing to save £120m over the next 5 years, 1/5th of our total budget, whilst still meeting all our targets!) and listening to each other as we try and work out how we can be more healthy and well together, so many beautiful and amazing things have started. These include: mental health cafes, community choirs, the Morecambe Bay poverty truth commission, walking groups, the daily mile in our local schools, new ways of working between the police, council and local communities, the voluntary sector working differently together, dementia befriending, mental health courses in our schools, a new focus on adverse childhood experiences and many many more. 

 

So Where from Here?

 

I believe we find ourselves in an intersectional moment in which we can unlock a very different kind of future than the one we appear to be currently heading for. It is time for deeper listening and a reimagining of how we really might live in a way together that cedes health and wellbeing of humanity and the planet through everything we do. This means we can honour previous ways of doing things, recognising where some of them have been detrimental and contradictory to true population health, letting go of our insanity in the process and find a new, more healthy way forward. It is vital that we consider these four interactive pillars of population health and embed them into every facet of our life together in society. This means ownership and resulting policy change by the government with funding that actually works for the kind of integrated, living and flexible systems we need to co-create. We need communities to find new ways of being well together, take responsibility for our own lifestyles and behaviours, with compassion and kindness for whom this is less than easy.

 

From my perspective this would mean a reimagining of politics – a rediscovery of how we live well together – away from binary competition and white male privilege and towards collaborative inclusivity and equality, based on love, kindness and compassion aka “kenarchy” in which we renegotiate our relationship with power. It would mean a reimagining of economics – a recalibration away from transaction and a ‘use and abuse biopower’ towards a ‘doughnut economics’ in which we learn to live in the sweet spot of environmental sustainability and human justice and mercy. 

 

There are so many things that we have accepted and reports we have ignored. It is time for us to collectively say “enough now” to that which is dividing and killing us and hold together the reality of despair and hope in our communities, as we allow the reality to sink in that together WITH each other, we really can begin to find an altogether better future for us all and the planet. It won’t be easy and means there are many of our own personal ego structures, deep wounds and problematic behaviours that will need healing and changing along the way, but let’s open our eyes and allow new eye light to help us see the future which in our hearts we are longing for. 

Share This:

Share

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.

Share This:

Share

Four Circles of Population Health

Tweet In my previous blog in this series, I wrote about the ‘Pentagon Model’ which we have developed in Morecambe Bay to help us think about how we manage Population Health. The Pentagon approach actually forms one of four parts of some over-lapping circles, based on 4-Ps (Population Health Approach, Partnerships, Places, People Movement), which [Continue Reading …]

Share