Working together to tackle health issues

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A FEW weeks ago, I wrote about some of the changes that are happening within the health sector in Hartlepool and how the Primary Care Trusts will be abolished at the end of March next year.

Their responsibilities will be split between the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) that will be led by GPs and be responsible for commissioning health services in the town and the local authority which will be responsible for the public health element.

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As part of this change, we have to set up a health and wellbeing board to oversee and govern the public health commissioning and to hold the CCG to account.

The board is also responsible for putting together a health and wellbeing strategy for the town.

A shadow board has been in place since October and yesterday we held our first face the public event which gave people an opportunity to both learn more about these changes and how it might affect them and also to start to feed in to the health and wellbeing strategy.

Well over 100 people attended the event which took place in the council chamber and it turned out to be a really useful exercise.

A couple of presentations set the scene and explained what was happening as part of these changes and how it will impact on Hartlepool.

There was then an interactive quiz, based on the TV show, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, which started to get people to think about the public health challenges that we face in Hartlepool.

Some quite stark statistics were included as part of the quiz, which highlighted the magnitude of the challenges that we still face when it comes to people’s health in the town.

We have made some huge improvements over recent years in some areas, but we still lag well behind the national average in others. There are some council wards in Hartlepool that are about as unhealthy as you get.

The next part of the event was probably the most valuable.

A number of workshops were set up, covering nine different health-related themes and some fantastic discussions took place around what each group thought we should be concentrating on as a policy objective in the future and how we can better communicate with people and involve them in the preparing the strategy.

I facilitated a group discussion around creating a healthy and sustainable community and basically how we can improve people’s quality of life.

The discussion focused around the effect that crime has on people’s perceptions of the town and their own well being and how we can send out a more positive message to improve perceptions.

It moved on the environment and how important it is for somewhere to look nice in order for people to feel good about it.

The discussion switched to getting people more involved in activities and their local community because, actually, there is plenty to do in Hartlepool with pretty good facilities that are perhaps under-used and under-valued.

In actual fact, the discussion could have continued all day as it is such a diverse topic .

However, we concluded that there are a few areas that we should concentrate on around sustainable communities.

These were: trying to change people’s perceptions about Hartlepool, looking to remove any barriers that are preventing people from getting more involved in activities, or being part of the community, and introducing better communication.

From these workshops, we will collate the issues emerging from the discussions and themes and use them as a basis for starting to put together the health and wellbeing strategy.

We will also look at how we can turn this information into meaningful priorities and how we intend to tackle and improve them.

There will be further extensive public consultation over the coming months to help us ensure we are forming the correct priorities and that people are able to help shape the strategy.

The event was rounded off with a Question Time-style panel which comprised of a number of members of the health and wellbeing board.

The questions were diverse and ranged from inquiries on how much money Hartlepool would get to where responsibilities lie with existing contracts that will be transferred during the changes.

Again the question and answer session could have gone on for a lot longer as the audience was particularly engaged and interested in what lies ahead.

I reckon we are pretty well ahead of the game when it comes to being prepared for these changes to the way in which health services are commissioned locally.

Yesterday’s event was a big step in testing our preparedness as we entered the public arena for the first time.

As we now move into our next phase of forming the public health agenda, it is vital that the professionals, the politicians and the public all work together to make sure we get the very best for Hartlepool and start to make some of these much-needed improvements in our health statistics.