From the fringes to the mainstream

Leeds Beckett University’s Professor of Healthy Communities gives her views on newly updated NICE guidelines on community engagement:

I recently attended two national events for NHS Vanguards on Empowering Patients and Communities run by the Coalition for Collaborative Care (C4CC).

What struck me was the tremendous commitment from everyone to making person-centred and community-centred health and care a reality.

Thinking about what local communities bring and how to involve them is no longer on the periphery of what the NHS does – it’s become a ‘must do’.

Public Health England also view place-based, community-centred approaches as underpinning effective prevention and helping build resilience in communities so that people and local communities can take control of their health and wellbeing, and have more influence on the factors that underpin good health.

As the vanguards start to reshape their services, they will be able to draw on the updated NICE guideline on community engagement published last month. This provides a clear mandate for action and sets out important principles for statutory services to work in genuine partnership with communities and community organisations to plan, design, develop, deliver and evaluate health and wellbeing initiatives.

The NICE guideline is clear that a variety of approaches can be used to carry out good community engagement through developing collaborations and partnerships with communities and through involving people in lay and peer roles. However, attention needs to be given to removing barriers and making it easy for people getting involved.

NICE also suggests using the guide to community centred approaches for health and wellbeing  jointly developed by Public Health England and NHS England last year.  Vanguards can use this as a key resource for commissioning and practice as the guide brings together evidence and information sources in an accessible way.

Many people have found the family tree of community-centred approaches a useful aid to thinking through different options for working with communities to improve health and wellbeing. Think Local Act Personal (TLAP) also provides a range of resources and case studies on building community capacity alongside integrated health and care services.

So what’s possible now? In some areas, the NHS and local government are leading a real shift in practice in how voluntary and community organisations, volunteers and the wider public are being involved in health and care.

There is much greater recognition of the assets within communities and a growing understanding of the power of volunteering, particularly in reaching and connecting with people who may face barriers to using services.

As the Marmot review concluded, building well connected, sustainable communities is a key strategy to close the health gap.  For example, Fylde Coast vanguard’s communications and engagement strategy is centred on the ‘Your Care, Our Priority’ programme. The ethos of this programme is that good health and wellbeing is underpinned by community life, social connections and supportive relationships.

The vanguard is targeting engagement activities at each of its ten neighbourhoods, starting by creating ‘neighbourhood profiles’ that describe the local demographics, and characteristics, and which identify both the needs and the resources of the local community.

What’s exciting about the vanguards is the fantastic opportunity to share learning on what works and what doesn’t in a broader network where ideas can be rapidly disseminated.

I believe the time is right for community engagement to move out of the margins into the mainstream. Let’s remember that empowering communities isn’t just the latest buzz phrase or an unattainable dream, but a direction of travel underpinned by robust principles, backed up by sound evidence and supported by NICE guidance.

As the vanguards start to do this for real, they can be assured of the wealth of practical community-centred approaches that can help them connect, capacity build and co-produce with their local communities.

  • You can read more on this subject in a recent blog by Professor Kevin Fenton, PHE’s National Director for Health and Wellbeing, who highlighted PHE’s work around community-centred approaches.
Professor Jane South

Jane South is Professor of Healthy Communities at the Institute for Health & Wellbeing at Leeds Beckett University, where she leads a research programme on active citizens, volunteering and community health.

She is currently on secondment as the national adviser on communities working within the Health Equity and Mental Health team of Public Health England.

Her current programme of work is looking at dissemination and application of evidence on community engagement, asset-based approaches and social action in public health.

In her university role, Jane was Director of the Centre for Health Promotion Research at Leeds Metropolitan University (now Leeds Beckett University) from 2013-16 and has led two National Institute for Health Research studies on lay and peer interventions.

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  1. Roseann Connolly says:

    Brilliant! Grateful for the succinct description and links to further information. Autism Hounslow is working to identify barriers to autistic people accessing community life and encouraging the development of social connections and supportive relationships.
    We are a small ambitious organisation and feel encouraged by recognition that this is the way to go.
    Loving and living it.

  2. Prof. Charles W Shaw FRSA FRSPH says:

    I found this fascinating although I think there is still a long way to go to give members of the public predominantly patients the confidence and respect to be able to challenge clinical decisions when their own knowledge or even gut reactions says the clinical decision is wrong and in some cases unjust.