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National Think Tank Programme – Active Communities for Health

June 13, 2011

As I flagged up earlier the Second National Think Tank – Active Communities for Health was held last week on the 6th of June.

The programme aims to develop a “stronger national dialogue on how we can work together to activate the full potential of our communities to improve health and well being. It builds on the February 2011 event organised by the sadly missed Health Inequalities National Support Team – which DH appears to be walking away from.

The February session had allow us to share experiences and practice with the intention of building a common understanding of challenges and opportunities. At this second session jointly hosted by Altogether Better and Leeds Beckett University’s People in Public Health Programme we aimed to identify common goals and actions to promote this agenda.

The session was chaired by Jane South from Leeds Metropolitan University – with inputs from Cllr Jan Smithies – who has led on community engagement for the DH Health Inequalities National Support Team and Trevor Hopkins who works with LGID and has led on the development of work on Asset Mapping – informed by John McKnights ABCD work in the states – Alinksy again.

The event had strong cross England attendance from a range of interesting organisations and individuals with a track record and commitment to this work. They included people like:

  • Chris Drinkwater – who Chairs the Newcastle Healthy Living Network Healthworks
  • Pam Essler a non executive director from Bradford Primary Care Trust
  • Martin Wilson from Lincolnshire County Council – who are doing really interesting work getting strong community engagement in their JSNA;
  • Mina Jessa from NHS Luton – who have implemented a community engagement strategy that has a powerful focus on the Equality responsibilities
  • Thara Raj from NHS East London and the City
  • Olivia Butterworth – DH Big Society and Voluntary Sector Lead

There were plenty of others – the point is that we have the beginning of a strong and inclusive network. Some themes emerged:

First, we know that there are plenty of examples of excellent practice at a local level although much of it is not whole system – but some is!

Second, there is an almost complete absence of this agenda at a mainstream national policy level in DH.

Third, there are quite of lot of opportunities – such as:

  • Relationships with other players – such as Locality
  • Emerging Government and DH policy to influence – the “Command Paper (whatever that is) – which will precede the final bill”
  • Direct Enhanced Services funding that is going to GPs
  • Engaging with NICE on the refresh of community engagement public health guidance

Fourth we were clear that the urgent job was to identify which strategically important practical tasks we could get on with that would deliver 3 immediate objectives.

  • Attract a wider membership
  • Raise our profile
  • Deliver some practically useful short term actions

There was a reasonable consensus that we should not spend too much time grinding out complex terms of reference and organisational structures – we need something that is light on its feet.

While the final notes are still to be written up some of the things that emerged for me included:

  • A virtual environment to support and connect champions who are trying to drive this agenda forward at a community level.
  • Offering thought leadership through a series of articles that raise the profile of this work at a national level
  • Giving some thought to a communications strategy which uses virtual media such as facebook, blogging and webinars.
  • The need to develop our links with key national organisations such as Locality (Altogether Better meet with them soon) and Community Matters.

So – I think a really good start – some great connections made and our journey gathers pace.

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