Mention health and wellbeing and most people think of the NHS, their GP and the local hospital.
But Joanna Spicer and Tessa Lindfield want everyone to think much more widely than that. They point out that there are so many things that affect our health and wellbeing, and so many agencies looking after those things, that the time has come for a joined-up approach.
That is what the Suffolk Health and Wellbeing Board was born a year ago to do. Joanna, a county councillor, is board chairman and Tessa, Suffolk County Council’s director of public health is, effectively, its chief executive. Both are passionate supporters of the board approach.
The need for a way of bringing things together can be seen in mental health alone.
Joanna points out: “There are several organisations spending money on mental health. As a board we can’t pool the money but we need to make sure it is spent sensibly.”
Then they list the bodies involved in mental health issues. The county council has responsibility for child protection and children’s services. Care commissioning groups commission a lot of mental care hospital and outside ‘talking’ therapies.
Tessa is responsible for drug and alcohol services and adult social care while district and borough councils have statutory duties regarding providing accommodation for people with mental health issues. Central government chips in with the Department of Work and Pensions handling benefits.
Tessa said: “One of the values of working together is we’re not duplicating. If you can all work together it’s got to be better.
“Families don’t really care where the services come from, they want a co-ordinated offer where they can tell their story once.”
Meanwhile, the wellbeing side is trying to stop you having problems in the first place. Both point out, for example, that exercise has an impact in reducing the affects of stress, depression and susceptibility to dementia.
That is why the board is made up of representatives of such a wide range of bodies.
It includes the chief executives of all the local authorities, representatives of the care commissioning groups and NHS England plus the voluntary sector and looks at everything from the provision leisure facilities, in the widest sense, to health services.
Tessa said: “We know that only between a third and a half of your health is due to health services you receive, the rest is down to other things in your community.
“The police are on the board because fear of crime affects your health. People who worry that the streets aren’t safe, stay inside and don’t take part in their community.
“The police are also interested in taking part because they say a lot of the things they pick up are related to health problems — to drug addiction, alcohol dependency.”
Joanna added: “We’re piloting having a qualified mental health worker travelling in a police car on a Friday and Saturday night.
“The tragedy is when someone gets arrested for some sort of disorder when they’re actually mentally ill. If you’ve got a mental health worker on call you can quickly get them to a place of safety.
“This will save the police money, but the health gain to these people is enormous.”
But a lot of the board’s work is to stop us getting health problems in the first place. This is often about changing views and they start young, trying to get schools involved because if you get into a healthy eating and exercise habit as a child it tends to stay for life.
“Setting a good example is important,” Tessa said. The majority of us don’t do five a day and aren’t as active as we should be.
“It’s about changing people’s behaviour but telling people what to do doesn’t work. It’s about giving people to opportunities to change and helping them realise they need to change.”
Joanna said: “One of the risks in a relatively prosperous county like Suffolk, is it’s quite active but it can be seen as ‘middle class’ and for people who can afford it. One of the things we want to do is to make it not just affordable but easy to access.”
They are working with schools making sure sports available are not just trendy up-market activities, like tennis, squash and badminton. Joanna observed: “Football, for example, costs next to nothing to do.”
Tessa explained: “It’s about being active. For some people it’s playing sports but what works for others is if you can build activity into your daily routine.”
That might mean seeing your dog as your ‘walking coach’ making sure you get out or employers encouraging people to hold ‘walking meetings’ where people discuss matters while strolling outdoors.
Walking or cycling to work, for which Suffolk is above the national average, should be encouraged, with employers ensuring they offer cycle racks and showers.
For the future they talk of trying to find ways to promote housing designs that allow homes to suit all stages of life. For example, homes that can be more easily adapted to meet changing mobility so someone does not have to move because they cannot fit a stair lift.
Tessa added: “We think there are some real opportunities here. It’s about working in a different way with all sorts of new partners to create conditions in Suffolk that will promote health.”