Select Committee on Health Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 540 - 547)



Siobhain McDonagh

  540. I am sorry about this, but it relates to some of the points Ms Little made earlier on in relation to community involvement. Can you describe some of the mechanisms by which you engage the communities you serve to help themselves to better health? We heard about the Bangladeshi women and the Pakistani groups and the facilitators that you set up. What makes that work well? Do local people have the skills to want to contribute to rather detailed and specialised planning processes?
  (Ms Little) I will hand over to my colleagues in the health action zone because, in Walsall in the past, it has been a politically controversial set of neighbourhood committees that have been elected. It is not total coverage of the borough but it is the most deprived areas of the borough. They are elected on the basis of one per 100 households and you will find a select committee on public administration chair looked at this in relation to certain aspects of its work around a year or 18 months ago. But interestingly, that was funded by SRB before health action zones were ever thought of. Then the health action zone came on board and we were able to use some of that community governance work to provide us with a bedrock to engage local communities in the health action zone planning. I am going to ask my two colleagues to perhaps give you a bit more detail on that.
  (Mr Goalby) The framework which Walsall set up for local community involvement in the health action zone was very important. The fact is that there were four local steering groups and Hillingdon have just talked about "the local". It is very important to establish local partnerships with local communities. The capacity of the community to carry on the work is developed by an ongoing mechanism of training. People are always learning and getting the chance to take forward their own skills which go back into the community. That is as brief an answer as I can make it.
  (Mr Parkes) We found in Walsall that, for example, if you were to look at our chair inside West HAZ, and if you had done a skills audit on that woman 12 months ago and done one now, you would find that her personal development has gone off the Richter scale. We are constantly looking at ways of trying to improve people's management committee skills. As Val says, there is a uniqueness about Walsall with these neighbourhood committees. Because there is this community governance model, it has created a bedrock for future things. It has been really useful. One of the things from a steering group point of view is that I am always of the opinion that if you have large numbers when you start and then you have large numbers regularly attending meetings, you must be doing something properly.
  (Ms Goodwin) Can I answer briefly? In Hillingdon, community development and capacity building is one of the six priorities in the health improvement programme and we have always fundamentally wanted to make it clear that for us, if we are going to reduce the inequalities that exist even in a place like Hillingdon, we have to do it through building capacity into communities, into ordinary people. To a certain extent therefore we have captured this requirement for community involvement, particularly for things like best value and local authorities, to actually say we are going to use that rubric to build capacity in those people themselves. Because, what is in it for them? We are constantly consulting them. We have got to involve them. We have got to tick the box that we consulted them on this hospital change or that best value indicator. But what was in it for them? So we have got a commitment across the partnership once again. But one way of developing our community consultation strategies and processes, fundamentally always in their summary is what is in it for that community, that neighbourhood, that group. We are running courses to give people some of the committee management skills you have talked about. We have already got some peer educators who, through becoming peer educators can then move on perhaps to other things and become community leaders and become active members economically, intellectually and politically in their own communities. So we see community development and community involvement as really part of a much bigger package which is about building capacity into local people individually and collectively. Every project we are involved in through the Sure Start, SRB, our Glebe Community Cafe, have all got elements of capacity building and community development. I might say that our voluntary sector council is a very important partner to that and they brought European social funding in to build capacity into the voluntary sector locally. So it is all of a piece hopefully.
  (Ms Little) And you have got to give people some power. You have got to give them some decision-making power so the SRB in Walsall, the neighbourhood committees have made decisions about the spend. Similarly, an element of the HAZ programme funding has gone straight to the steering committees for spending along the priorities along the lines that they want. So people have got to have some say in something substantial as well as giving something themselves.
  (Mr Kelly) That is an important point. I think often health services and local authorities start from, "We want to involve the community to enable them to agree with our agenda". That is a bad start from a community's agenda. As an example, the Community Cafe on the Glebe Estate, whilst there has been a spark of that idea and the resourcing came from the local authority and the voluntary sector organisation initially, so it is not in true terms a community development project because it was still our agenda, we have been able to take a step back and say, "OK, this is our idea. Let us work with the community to identify what they actually want to do with this space". So we provided them with the resources, the expertise and the support to develop that cafe. The aim is that within three years they will actually take over it and manage it. So we need to build capacity and leave them with the mechanisms to do that.
  (Mr Goalby) Can I just quickly mention the public health worker in Walsall.

  541. That leads into the next question. Are community facilitators and public health workers the key to delivering public health to communities and what exactly do they do?
  (Mr Goalby) Firstly, I would say yes they are because I am public health.

  542. What do you do?
  (Mr Goalby) My basic role is to act as the interface between the health services and the community. I am very much an advocate of the community to make sure that the process is not highjacked by the services so the local authority and the health authority are not imposing their agenda on the local community; that it is the local community who are shaping the agenda of the local authority and health authority.

  543. But they pay your wages. Are they not suspicious of you?
  (Mr Parkes) I think John took some time—I would not say some time but certainly from the early days of HAZ—from our point of view, from the steering group, it took us some time to trust John. There was this notion that here we are, we have another professional coming along and imposing his ideas. I think John's background in terms of being a community development worker in his previous lives has helped the process enormously. I think it is a very difficult role that he has. He has almost acted as a catalyst for community activity and that has been really instrumental in what has happened certainly in the West HAZ in Walsall.
  (Mr Goalby) I get told off by the local authority, the health authority and the community.
  (Mr Kelly) The community facilitators that we have been working with are essentially catalysts for the delivery of public health and health education and health improvements as opposed to the deliverers themselves. We see their role as advocates, as facilitators, as supporters, as health educators; people bringing communities together; people bringing services together with communities. They contribute to the needs assessment and identification agenda and an important role is their education role with services to increase the understanding and awareness of services, of the needs of the community. It is important for services to actually change their work in order to respond to the community effectively. So there are two sorts of sides to that coin.
  (Ms Goodwin) You asked if they were key workers. There are lots of different people who could describe themselves as key workers. But perhaps I can go back to the question that Dr Stoate put at the beginning, how do you know that what you are doing is altering the coronary heart disease rate in a given area? I would simply say that the things that cause coronary heart disease are multiple—diet, physical activity, smoking, level of self-esteem and control over your life, social class poverty. Those are all the things that lead to some of the conditions that we are trying to intervene in. So the interventions that we apply to them have to be also multiple. They have to work at lots of different levels. And community facilitators and public health workers are the people who intervene at all those different levels right down at the coal face. People like me in the grey suits, we are intervening in those determinants at the strategic level but if those people were not there to work flexibly and not just on health services but across the wide range of determinants, we are not going to see any permanent change or sustainable change in the future.

  544. I am not sure what to do about the next question. This is about the health improvement programmes. We talked a bit about what you thought and how they were a benefit and a catalyst for joint working, certainly in Hillingdon. First to Ms Little. Can you describe for us the successes and difficulties of the Sandwell health improvement process and tell us why you think it has been given an award? Later, when I will definitely not be here, to Hillingdon, can you describe for us the implications of calling your health improvement programme, "The Hillingdon Plan for Health, Well-being and Quality of Life"—snappy title? How easy has it been to embed the idea of public health and health improvement as a broad social problem rather than as a reaction to disease? Is it possible to create a sense of ownership of the health improvement programme in the local population or is it a document for the authorities only? And does it matter? To Hillingdon again, can you see any reason why the health improvement programme and community plan should not be merged along the lines of yours? I apologise for having to leave.
  (Ms Little) The successes have been the broad base, the process in particular and I mean, why it got an award, perhaps you had best ask the award givers. But I think it was around the process and the engagement. We kicked off with a very large community conference and engaged—we had two parallel pieces of work, both with professionals and organisations and agencies and then also with community groups in the voluntary sector. We ran those things in parallel and then brought them together. It was quite an exercise and I have to tell you that the amount of material that was generated in July 1998, the issues that needed addressing, the ideas for addressing them, we are still working through. It was a very rich affair. We did a lot of preparation for it. We had satellite meetings out and about with local communities. So the process has been a big success. We have set some outcome targets. We monitor them. What we found more difficult, as I said before, is linking the specific interventions to specific outcomes. But we do have a very clear set of outcome targets which we reported on at the end of the first year and will continue to report on. We link those into obviously the HAZ outcome targets that we had to set and into the community plan in Sandwell. So the community plan has about 10 high-level indicators of which about two or three are related to the health area. You will see in our outcome targets that we are quite clear that literacy and employment are two key areas for health improvement and unless we can make progress on that in the Sandwell borough, we will not improve health. So that has been a success. Individual projects have been successful. I think the housing work will prove its benefit substantially and as I said before we have a longer-term programme on the data on that. A particular success that is highlighted in here is the stream of work that we have called "Work Well"—because everything is "well" in Sandwell, you see; it is our little logo. But that is the occupational health programme. It is HAZ funding but we have also got it as part of the mainstream health improvement programme and I think that has worked very well. We have got occupational health into primary care now. We said we would do it and we have done it. So all our contractor staff have access to the occupational health service and we are now on the other stream of working, working with small and medium enterprises in the borough, focusing particularly—you may be interested in this Mrs Gordon—on back pain. That was seen to be the key. We have had a bit of national recognition for it from the Health & Safety Executive but I think the occupational health stream is one that I would highlight as a particular success. We are short of time I will not go through everything. Were those all the points raised?
  (Ms Goodwin) We titled the document as we did because it was a good process and a good document. I do not think HimPs are always a document for the public. We did a bit of work on whether people knew what a health improvement programme was. They did not. Do a bit of work on if they know what a particular project is and what is in it, and you get a different answer.

  The reason for calling it "The Hillingdon Plan for Health, Well-being and Quality of Life" was a deliberate attempt early on in the partnership to respond precisely to the point about the HimP and public health being much wider than just about health services or the NHS. So we thought "Health" is capturing the HimP; "Well-being" captures the community planning well-being stuff that will be coming through local government legislation, and "Quality of Life" was actually specifically around community safety, local agenda 21. So we tried to wrap up the major statutory plans in one document, anticipating a time when HimPs would become part of the over-arching community plan. That answers the last question Ms McDonagh put to us as well. How easy was it to embed the idea of public health and health improvement as a wider social issue? It was not easy but we found using a simple back-of-an-envelope statement of what we thought was the task of the HimP, which was to address the underlying determinants, and we in fact used the old Public Health Alliance charter which has 12 points in it. That is, enable you to have enough income, proper homes, access to education, a healthy environment, transport that is sustainable and so forth. We just used that again and again and again. We found that because that did not belong to the NHS, it did not belong to local government, everybody could look at that and say, "Oh yes, that is us. We can understand that". It helped education, for example—Terry tells me—to identify how they would be assisted to deliver their targets if they were working within that context as well. So, about ownership of the local population? To be frank, I do not think there is much and I think there is a point at which we have to decide whether this kind of document is something which we really fully and honestly can expect people to give up their time to become engaged with when, at the end of the day, to some extent it is something which is done to keep the people upstairs happy and to perform a functional purpose for our strategic partnership working. Those are the two key functions. We do produce a leaflet and poster each year in community languages and send it round the system. But to be frank, I think we have held back from trying to do massive community conferences and lots and lots of meetings. We do not think that for most ordinary people a strategic planning document has got enough meaning to justify them giving up their time. We would rather, and they tell us they would rather when we have asked them this, work in projects and consultations which are more linked to some of the client group services and some of the projects rather than to a strategic planning document. The last question: is there any reason why the HimP and the community plan should not become one? Absolutely none! That is the agenda we are working to in Hillingdon.

Mr Austin

  545. Can I briefly put a question to Hillingdon as well? We had evidence earlier on from Mr Panter who is the chief executive of the Hillingdon PCT, but he was here wearing another hat. He told us about the efforts to bring together the communicable diseases function with the local environmental health functions using the appropriate parts of the Act. But you have decided to locate the health promotion service in the council rather than in the NHS. The Chairman would have asked this question if he had been here. Why did you decide to do that? What have been the benefits and have there been any problems as a result?
  (Ms Goodwin) Going back to the point Mr Panter made about public health, that is still an issue under discussion. We are looking at a number of ways in which Section 31 of the Health Act might enable us to achieve closer joint working, make better use of what is often a very small resource for a small organisation but which, if pooled together, could become a significant one. Of course, we have Heathrow in our patch which is why port health and communicable disease becomes quite an issue. We have not got to the point yet where we are even talking actively about some kind of public health function but I believe in time we will see something in which environment and health work closely in that respect. Perhaps I can hand you over to Terry, who is the product of the decision to locate health promotion in the council. He can perhaps answer the question better than I can.
  (Mr Kelly) The "why" was a fundamental belief and commitment to addressing the big determinant of health, a recognition that health promotion is wider than health education. It is not about being health police. It is about influencing health and public policy; influencing public policy to explicitly put health within there. One of the things we have done as part of that is to get a chapter on health and transport explicitly within the interim transport plan for this year and recognise that we need to develop that as part of the overall transport strategy that we are developing over this coming 12 months. So it was a recognition that if we are going to influence public policy the best place to do that would be within the local authority. Certainly as somebody who has worked on health promotion for some years, I have worked closely with local authority colleagues throughout that time. It is a hugely different activity or hugely more beneficial to actually deal inside an organisation rather than working alongside. It offers so many more opportunities for access, for communication, for recognition, for relevance. Sot it has been hugely beneficial in enabling us to get health on the agenda of a number of people within the local authority with an opportunity to frame and shape policy. In terms of disadvantages, it is very easy to be seen as the health person so that anything that has got a health label that comes through the local authority sometimes tends to end up on my desk, whether it is to do with health promotion, health services or whatever. But I think the biggest disadvantage is to do with the sheer effort that has to be put in in order to keep contact, mainly the contact with two major organisations.
  (Mr Betts) Can I just pick that up because I think in a sense we are still at the stage of transition here. It was a really good step to see it within the local authority but with the new powers that we have got under the Act, I think we will begin to see different models delivering health and social care services in the sense that where it becomes located is not really the issue. What is important is the model that is being used. It will draw on health; it will draw on local government. That is the issue rather than is it here or is it there? I envisage in Hillingdon over the next few years there will not be—it will probably be a care trust or something like that. That in itself is not important because there will be other organisations which are different from the social services departments we have now and so on and so forth. So really it is more important to think about the models and how we develop those rather than where the location is and so on.
  (Ms Little) I would like to say that Director of Health and Regeneration I regard as a public health post. It will provide unique opportunities and I intend to take them.

Mrs Gordon

  546. I was just going to ask how does your new post differ from when you were Director of Public Health and what agendas will it give you?
  (Ms Little) The new post, as I say, had a previous incumbent who is now currently the chief executive of the Metropolitan Borough Council and is therefore very supportive of the whole public health agenda. It will enable me to see the public health dimension into economic development, the planning department and the regeneration division. So those are the three areas. And I think things like transport. I also have a remit in the post to develop the public health and health aspects of housing in conjunction with the relevant corporate director. I do not have the housing remit. The corporate director for housing has that.

Mr Burns

  547. I was wondering whether Hillingdon could give us some details of their plans to create a single public health resource centre for West London.
  (Ms Goodwin) I do not think I can really, other than to say what I said a few minutes ago, which is that we are at an early stage in discussing across the partnership what the potential might be for a Section 31 or some other arrangement to have a common public health resource within our locality or more widely given that there is a difference in our figures and those of the health authorities. The areas of London-wide structures, processes, public health observatory; there are lots of issues and it is too early to say other than there is a strong commitment to doing something jointly; to make better use of the resources themselves. It is fair to say that we have not gone beyond that but it is a fundamental commitment and understanding of the best way to work.

  Mr Austin: I thank you for coming and giving evidence this morning. If anybody has further questions, we may want to write to you for further information.

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