Tenacity and passion drive self care in Milton Keynes

A primary care pharmacist shares her experience of developing a self care approach beyond the precincts of NHS England:

It all started because I spoke up at a directorate away day in Milton Keynes CCG.

I spoke up because I believe that self care should be central to all that we do.  Whether we are supporting people to make good choices around diet and exercise, educating a parent to confidently look after a child with a cold or coaching a patient to better manage their COPD, we can all improve people’s ability to self-care.  How else do we free up resources to ensure they are available for those with the greatest need?

By raising awareness of self care at an away day, I set off on a journey that I could not have anticipated at the time. My comments seemed to resonate with many in the room, and as a result of speaking up I was asked if I would like to lead a piece of work around self care.   With the support of my director and line manager the work is now taking shape and, ultimately, it has been support from like-minded colleagues that has helped to get our Self Care Action Plan off the ground.

This week we are publishing the plan.

Why are we doing this?  In line with the NHS Five Year Forward View, we have an ambition to become better at helping people to manage their own health. We want to ensure our population has the knowledge, skills and confidence they need to make health-related decisions.  Whether that be choosing to exercise, treating common illnesses or self-managing long term conditions.

Self care is not a magic bullet. But if we are to have a sustainable NHS for future generations then supporting people to manage their own health is an obvious way to reduce demand. It is also important to recognise barriers to self care, such as poor health literacy – people’s ability to understand and interpret health information.

Health professionals have been delivering the same messages to the public for many years – so why do things never appear to change?

Following my enthusiasm at the away day, I was given carte blanche to develop this piece of work as I wished. Sounds great, but when setting off into the unknown, it’s really important to have a critical friend.  Someone who can sense check your work and keep you on track.  There is a danger that goals and aspirations become unachievable when working to such a wide-ranging remit. With the help of my critical friend, we have engaged with a wide range of internal stakeholders to ensure the work gained the traction it required.

The thing with self care is, while I have argued it is everybody’s business, the danger is that it becomes nobody’s business, especially in a time with many conflicting demands. Many of the actions we need to take do not naturally fall to the responsibility of one team so it was important to give the work a high profile.  The CCG as a whole needed to buy-in to the concept of self care.

There are some headline local priorities, such as the development of the STP and NHS RightCare data that mean different teams have shared interests. This has helped give the action plan some shape and has provided the organisational buy-in.

We have had some great early outcomes from the action plan so far. Milton Keynes CCG has successfully set up an MK-wide Self-Care Steering Group that includes key external stakeholders from across health and social care, as well as the third sector.

The first output of this group was to produce a toolkit for Self Care Week. This is to enable a shared voice for key health messages across Milton Keynes during the week and beyond.

We have also developed an extensive winter communications campaign, with great support from our communications and engagement lead who has really helped to drive this. A significant element of the winter campaign is to use social media to target some of the demographic groups that turn up at A&E but receive no treatment. There is great potential for the use of technology to scale up self care among populations.

The development of this work shows that you do not always need a bucketful of resources to get a good idea off the ground. When something resonates with people in an organisation, sometimes a bit of tenacity and passion is all you need to get going.

I do believe having one person driving this work has been hugely beneficial but this piece of work is the result of some excellent collaborative work within Milton Keynes CCG. We look forward to implementing the next steps of our Self Care Action Plan.

Sonal Mehta

Sonal Mehta is a primary care pharmacist with NHS Milton Keynes CCG.

She started her professional life as a community pharmacist where she gained a breadth of experience across different populations, providing advice and delivering public health services.

Since starting at Milton Keynes CCG in 2012, her main role has been to provide medicines and prescribing support to several GP surgeries. She has also been involved in a number of local initiatives such as updating and rebranding the community pharmacy minor ailments scheme, MK Pharmacy First, contributed to pathway design in order to bring children’s care close to home and been involved in the development of primary care multidisciplinary teams.

Sonal is a passionate advocate for self-care and the benefits it can bring to individuals and communities.

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