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Health and care professionals: Make prevention your healthy New Year’s resolution

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: All Our Health, Health and Wellbeing, Health Protection

This blog looks at the prevention agenda and is part of a short series addressing the contribution health and care professionals can make to improving health and wellbeing. Please also see our blogs on starting conversations and on making referrals. Don’t forget to also take a look at All Our Health which helps all health and care professionals maximise their contribution to achieving a radical upgrade in prevention.

What change would you like to see in 2018? My ambition is to see thousands more front line health and care professionals building more ‘prevention’ into their everyday practice.

This could be through initiating brief conversations about smoking, physical inactivity, healthy weight or blood pressure or building more long-term relationships through motivational interviewing or health coaching.

It could be about getting involved in community initiatives - there are so many ways we can support the public to live longer and healthier lives and at the same time reduce the demand on our health and care system.

This is vital work. Everyone can see how hard our front line professionals are working to manage this increasing demand, particularly during winter.

Would you like to build even more health promoting activity into everyday practice? Is it easy for you to do this or are there barriers in the way?

These are questions we decided to address at the end of last year, through an independent insights research project with a group of diverse health professionals. I want to use this blog to summarise what we learned and our next steps to putting this learning into action.

Prevention and your practice

A focus on prevention means different things to different people. Every professional knows that what people eat, or whether they smoke or keep active, are behaviours that have a big impact on health. Tackling them can “prevent” people getting ill.

From a national perspective, public health leaders worry that our population is living longer but spending more of those years in ill health. Documents like the NHS Five Year Forward View demand a “radical upgrade” in prevention as the only way to manage demand on our health and care services.

But of course in our communities - in a surgery or on a ward - the day to day challenges might be seen differently.

Our insights research confirmed that whilst professionals instinctively understand the need for prevention, and for many it’s part of your developing practice, people aren’t necessarily driven by a formal national agenda or strategy.

Does this matter? For some professionals an official agenda was logical – it was about preventing hospital admissions or tackling an ageing population. For others national strategies are just another pressure point in an already busy schedule.

This does not surprise me. Although prevention is increasingly embedded within our everyday practice I recall from my own experience in both acute and primary care that there are always so many competing priorities.

What did you tell us about opportunities and barriers?

It was no surprise to learn that professional pride – wanting to do a great job – was a key motivating factor for staff who were regularly building prevention into their practice. Having a supportive team around you was also cited as important.

Our insights research also showed that if more professionals were aware of formalised “prevention” strategies, they would be open to implementing them, but sometimes this awareness didn’t exist.

So there’s willingness to build more prevention into our practice, but also recognition that there are some barriers.

We heard that time and resources can be an issue and this point is well made. Demand for the vital services you provide is high and is one of the reasons more prevention activity is much needed.

Participants also talked about the need for enhanced confidence and more training to help you start conversations about health and wellbeing. We heard that you sometimes worry that asking, for instance, about a patient’s weight or whether they smoke may not be welcomed.

And you also spoke about the fact that you weren’t always sure “what’s next” if a conversation is initiated. For instance, even if a patient is keen to take action, are there local support services to refer people to? What if they aren’t available?

What can PHE do?

Despite this blog being a brief summary of your feedback it hopefully resonates and covers the challenges you’re familiar with.

And PHE is ready to support you in tackling these challenges.

As part of our research we asked for comments on All Our Health, an online resource to help health and care professionals understand the prevention role they can play and quickly access the right information to make an impact.

You told us where we could make practical improvements to All Our Health, so we’re already working on this, and of course the resource will evolve as a result of future feedback at events or through #WeLearn, an initiative where we combine learning with social media.

We want All Our Health to address the barriers you face so this year expect more guidance on having effective patient conversations as well as making good referrals to local services, online information or health apps.

We are also forging new links with universities and Health Education England, so we can build more prevention into the way we train our future professionals to practice in a different world with new expectations and opportunities.

And we’re working to develop new accessible Continued Professional Development approaches for current practitioners

Overall we’re pleased to see backing for the idea of a go-to resource which helps professionals at different levels carry out more prevention focussed activity.

Along with developing All Our Health, we also recognise the need to keep making the wider prevention agenda real for every health and care professional, through more personal stories and case studies as well as outlining how this work fits into national strategies.

The New Year is a great time to reflect on the past but most importantly look to the future. Can you help us make a change in 2018? Prevention is far better than cure - imagine the impact if tens of thousands more front line health professionals joined those who are already building prevention activity into their practice.

Let’s together truly embrace a radical upgrade in prevention and help the people we serve to live longer and healthier lives, whilst reducing the increasing pressure on our health and care system. It really can be a “win-win”.

And if you are using All Our Health on your prevention journey we’d be delighted to hear how you are getting on. Please send me your examples via Twitter or in the blog comments below.

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