Leading the prevention revolution

By Jamie Sutterby and Trevor Holden | 04 July 2023

A recent speech by Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, was of as much interest to local government colleagues as those in the NHS.

He called for a more integrated approach to healthcare, with GPs, hospitals, and community services working more closely together, and more investment in technology and innovation, to help the NHS deliver care more efficiently and effectively. He concluded his address by saying that the NHS can only overcome its ‘perfect storm’ of challenges by working with its partners and investing in preventative healthcare.

The importance of district council services to the NHS meeting such goals is clearly apparent. Our staff’s life saving work during Covid underlined the vital bridge we offer between our communities and health partners.

While the pandemic demonstrated the importance of a localised response, it also showed the result of empowering communities to take accountability for their own health and wellbeing.

South Norfolk and Broadland DCs helped relieve the growing burden on our clinical colleagues. Our social prescribing and District Direct work sees council staff embedded in doctors’ surgeries and hospital discharge teams. Their purpose is to provide better outcomes for residents and in doing so they free up medical appointments and hospital beds.

Both teams work in our councils’ Help Hub, a partnership of 34 organisations providing 70 vital services. Early intervention is, of course, key to prevention. Help Hub’s ethos is to deliver those services at the time they are most needed and will do the most good, and most importantly, prevent issues from escalating to the point of requiring medical intervention.

Help Hub’s ‘one door’ approach enables our residents to access multiple local support agencies through just one contact. Its impartial advice on issues from financial welfare, housing and benefits to domestic abuse, bullying, and bereavement support can be accessed either via the telephone, online or face-to-face.

Its work helps enable our elderly residents remain independent in their own homes for longer, promoting social connection and preventing admissions to our hospitals.

Much of our focus is on local communities supporting themselves to become more resilient and improve their own quality of life.

Our Mindful Towns and Villages project delivers free wellbeing and mental health awareness training including for members of community groups and those working in local businesses, shops and pubs. We’re empowering our residents to help with their own and others’ mental health.

Other district council services have a huge role. Our planning policies promote sustainable development and encourage people to live in healthy environments – those living near green spaces are more likely to be physically active – and they can also help reduce pollution from noise, traffic and air pollution.

In addition to their obvious health benefits, our leisure centres’ group fitness classes, sports leagues and social events help residents meet new people and make friends. Social interaction reduces stress and improves mental health.

Meanwhile, the data we hold has huge potential to proactively provide support for individuals.

We are working with an organisation called Xantura to analyse council data from housing, benefits and council tax as well as health and social care data. The data is cross-referenced, for instance, to identify individuals at a greater risk from slips, trips and falls.

Those identified as being at risk are offered assessments which could lead to a range of low-cost and community-based support interventions. These simple, preventative actions help stop the customer’s needs escalating to a point where they need a costly social care or clinical response.

Similarly, we are working in partnership with the Department for Work and Pensions and Norfolk CC to use data to identify households at risk of financial hardship.

It is this ability to use localised intelligence, down to street level and our place-based nature that makes district councils the most agile public sector institutions in responding to any crisis, including the one now in the NHS.

Through our statutory duties and our strong natural links to our communities we are best placed to not only be the glue that binds a united response but also a lead agency.

If district councils were truly integrated within health systems, the full preventative potential of services such as housing, Help Hub, and regulatory services would be utilised.

Research produced for the District Councils’ Network by the King’s Fund, launched at the Local Government Association conference this week, shows how NHS and district colleagues can unite in partnership to achieve the full potential of district support to the health system. As Matthew Taylor’s speech demonstrates, health and local government are coming together in a single vision of prevention and wellbeing which will be revolutionary.

Trevor Holden is managing director of South Norfolk and Broadland DCs, and is vice-chair of the District Councils’ Network chief executives group. Jamie Sutterby is director of people and communities at South Norfolk and Broadland DCs

@districtcouncil @SNorfolkCouncil @BroadlandDC

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