We are now living longer, but for some communities many of those years are spent in poor health.
Preventing ill health can play a vital role in reducing health inequalities across the country. In England, two thirds of premature deaths and ill health could be prevented by addressing key risk factors such as obesity, tobacco use, high blood pressure and physical inactivity.
Public Health England’s All Our Health (AOH) framework is a call to action to all health and care professionals to embed prevention within their day to day practice. Through educational materials, tools and resources, AOH helps professionals make an even greater impact in preventing illness, protecting health and promoting wellbeing.
I’m looking forward to speaking at PHE’s conference about why prevention is a fundamental priority and how it can be embedded across delivery to help everyone live healthier, longer lives.
In the meantime, here are four suggestions for how all health and care professionals can embed prevention in their practice and maximise their impact, contributing to a healthier future:
Conversations are a great opportunity. Many health professionals understand the importance of prevention yet report a lack of confidence when it comes to talking about risk factors such as weight, alcohol consumption, smoking or physical inactivity. Yet this is a great way of encouraging important behavioural and lifestyle changes and studies show that people expect and value these conversations. Health and care professionals have asked for more education and resources to enhance skills and confidence, especially in pressured, ‘time precious’ environments.
Motivational interviewing techniques can help you overcome barriers that may be preventing you from making important life changes, while training as a health coach helps health professionals build on their existing clinical skills to give people the knowledge and confidence to take a more active role in their health. Find out about the work of NHS expert Dr Penny Newman to increase health coaching skills across the system and the impact it is having.
The ‘very brief advice’ model is another way to offer patients advice on healthy behaviours quickly and easily. There is training available on how to do this for risk factors such as smoking. For practical examples, read about how PHE clinical champions have seen benefits from offering advice around physical activity through brief conversation techniques.
Making the right referrals
Making the right referrals to local support services or information can help ensure that people you care for stand the best possible chances of adopting, and sustaining, healthier behaviours. One helpful step is to build a picture of the local services around major lifestyle risk factors, such as physical activity, smoking and weight management. Making contact with Local Authority public health teams is a good way to find out about what is available.
Understanding the resources offered via national health campaigns is also helpful. Many offer free professional advice to help people understand more about preventing their risk of long-term ill-health. For example, PHE’s One You website offers a range of advice on ways to stay mentally and physically well, signposting specific advice on a range of lifestyle factors from getting more active and eating well to reducing stress and quitting smoking. These are often available through free apps so that information is as accessible as possible.
Measuring your impact
Regularly measuring the impact that you are having on improving health outcomes will help with professional development and increase the impact of prevention.
There are a number of tools already available to help you do this. The Everyday Interactions measuring impact toolkit is a quick and easy way to help you record and measure your public health impact, while the physical activity impact pathway can help you to record and measure actions undertaken as part of routine care, which impact on physical activity levels.
When it comes to prevention, something that is often overlooked is the power that you have to influence behaviour through your own actions. Starting a conversation about the importance of physical activity can be a lot more effective if you feel able to share your own experience of doing so, offering tips and advice that helped you along the way.
Understanding local needs
Health needs vary significantly area by area and there remain stark health inequalities across the country.
Confidence in interpreting data is helpful to understanding local health needs. PHE’s Fingertips resource provides a wide range of tools to help you do this. It includes the Public Health Outcomes Framework, which provides data and information to show how public health is being improved and protected. It also includes Local Authority Health Profiles, which provide a snapshot overview of health for each local authority and contains data to help you understand the issues that can affect health in your local populations. Other valuable data sources include the Health Survey for England (HSE) and local wellbeing indicators produced by The What Works Centre for Wellbeing.
These are just some of the simple things that health professionals can do to help prevent illness and protect people’s health. To help encourage others to practice better prevention, share PHE’s new animation and All Our Health framework.