Communication key to improving health in Northumberland, say leaders

County Hall, MorpethCounty Hall, Morpeth
County Hall, Morpeth
Communicating with residents is crucial to the success of a decade-long strategy, which aims to improve health and wellbeing in Northumberland.

Council and health bosses are aware that some of the key concepts within the Northumberland Joint Health and Wellbeing Strategy for 2018 to 2028 are not well understood by patients or the wider public.

Explaining them to people is important, not least when they involve what may be seen by many as a cultural shift in the way we think about healthcare and medicine.

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This discussion about communication and engagement came as Northumberland County Council’s health and wellbeing board discussed the draft action plans which support the strategy at its meeting on Thursday (August 8).

For example, one of the action points in the plan is to ensure that all GPs in Northumberland will be able to refer people into community activities.

This is what’s known as social prescribing and is one of the concepts which board members highlighted should be explained clearly to the public.

It is described as a way of linking patients with sources of support within the local community to help improve their health and wellbeing, and is part of a wider shift in healthcare to avoid always going down the medical route to resolve issues, when other paths may be more beneficial.

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Dr Graham Syers, NHS Northumberland CCG’s clinical director of primary care, summarised it as: “Do I have a medical problem or is it a social problem?”

A 2015 Commission in the UK estimated that about 20% of patient consultations were for social rather than medical problems.

Linked to this and another area where it was agreed that there needed to be better communication with the public was about ensuring patients go to the right place to access the right care – which could be self-care, amid growing pressures on both GPs and emergency departments.

Derry Nugent, of Healthwatch Northumberland, which represents patients, said: “It can’t be about blame though, blaming people for turning up at the wrong place.”

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As previously reported, the four themes of the JHWS are: Giving every child and young person the best start in life; Empowering people and communities; Tackling some of the wider determinants of health; Adopting a whole-system approach to health and care.

The overall success of the strategy will be monitored by changes in life expectancy, healthy life expectancy and the gap between Northumberland’s least and most deprived communities on those two measures.