The power of health coaching for all

Dr Ollie Hart, GP, Clinical Director of Heeley Plus Primary Care Network and Director of Peak Health Coaching, talks about how incorporating health coaching approaches into his consultations helped build self-management capabilities for his patients.Elaine Cross shares her experience of how this approach helped her explore a referral to a health and wellbeing coach, where she found tools and strategies to better self-manage her condition.

Health coaching starts with a belief that people have a key part to play in generating good outcomes for themselves. Coaching does not determine what those should be, it is orientated around what matters most to that person at that time. Having studied for the best part of 10 years to be a GP, I started my career with the perception that I generally knew what was best for patients. Granted I had some pretty in-depth knowledge of diseases and how they show up in people, but I learnt that what really mattered was the person at the centre of the issues. It really matters how people respond to our diagnosis and suggested treatments. Supporting people to self-treat or self-manage, very much depends on their personal skills, knowledge and confidence. I have found using coaching skills is the best way to build these health capabilities in people.

Once I learnt how to apply coaching skills in a health context, everything changed. I moved from a one-sided struggle to manage illness, to a double-sided pursuit of health. Through coaching I learnt to appreciate the value of genuine partnership working, stepping down from my position of authority, realising the benefits of people taking more control themselves.

I used to worry that it took too long and came at the expense of other medical must do’s. But I have learnt that if the priority for the patient is to build their self-management skills, I feel comfortable putting my time there during the consultation.

I’ve also learnt that coaching approaches require a ‘mindset shift’ from the whole team.

Learning how to coach has transformed my medical career. It has enabled me to have a new productive therapeutic relationship with the people I work with, be they patients or colleagues. It has also opened my eyes to a huge new potential to boost the whole health service. My relationship with Elaine is a great example. I started as her GP dictating her treatments. She has been part of my learning journey, and as I learnt to coach, I saw her self-esteem and self-care capabilities grow. We’ve given each other confidence. But more than just doing better individually, Elaine has become part of a growing volume of local people who are actively contributing peer support to others. 

Elaine said: I live with several long-term conditions including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and depression, requiring numerous medical appointments over the years. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I experienced feelings of isolation and realised that I wasn’t coping all that well. I spoke to my GP Dr Ollie Hart; we discussed the support options that could work best for me based on my needs and circumstances. We didn’t simply work through a check list but had a genuine discussion resulting in an agreed referral to one of the primary care network’s health and wellbeing coaches.

“I had nine sessions with a health and wellbeing coach over five months, looking at my need to improve the management of my mental health. My coach focused on me and what I needed to talk about. Her calm and friendly approach put me at ease. It gave me the space to reflect and become more aware of my behaviour and how it was impacting on my mental health. Her support enabled me to try different techniques and strategies in taking little steps towards beneficial change.

“I had a really good experience and would recommend seeking health coaching support to others. I felt listened to, relaxed, and encouraged and never judged. Having a safe space to focus on what mattered to me was key in helping me. I feel that health coaching has played an important role in enabling me to better self-manage my mental health. It has provided me with tools and strategies that have stayed with me well beyond my coaching sessions.

“As Ollie describes, I am now active in supporting other people. Our relationship is such that we work alongside each other as colleagues in providing personalised care. It really embodies the ‘mindset shift’ that he describes which not only makes a huge difference to myself, but also to others as well”.

Conflict of interest

Dr Hart is a director of Peak Health Coaching, a company that offers NHS accredited training in health coaching to NHS staff.

Photograph of Dr Ollie Hart, GP, Clinical Director of Heeley Plus Primary Care Network and Director of Peak Health Coaching

Dr Ollie Hart is a GP from Sheffield. He is the clinical director for the local primary care network, Heeley Plus, covering 42,000 patients.

He has a core professional interest in person-centred care. Across the last 10 years he has held a range of national roles in this area, co-chairing NHS England’s Strategy Board for Supported Self-management, a national champion for the Royal College of General Practitioners in its Collaborative Care and Support Planning Programme, clinical lead for personalised care for NHS Sheffield, and member of South Yorkshire Social Prescribing Board.

He is a director for Peak Health Coaching (PHC), a company that specialises in health coaching training and organisational development for person-centred care. PHC was the first company nationally to be accredited for health coaching training by the Personalised Care Institute and has trained over 2,000 people in coaching skills.

He is one of two global health and wellbeing ambassadors for parkrun.

If not at his standing desk, Ollie is most at home running or biking in the Peak District.

Photograph of Elaine Cross, patient champion in her GP practice

Elaine is a patient from Sheffield with lived experience of Type 2 diabetes, depression, high blood pressure and osteoarthritis. She has experienced the best and the worst of care as a patient. But, that has motivated her to become first a patient champion in her GP practice and then complete the NHS England Peer Leadership Development Programme which has been life changing.

Locally, she has been involved in the development of a person-centred approach to the management of people with long-term conditions at her local GP practice including the formation and induction of patient peer support volunteers and has been involved in setting up a peer led mental health peer support group.

At national level, Elaine sits on the NHS England Lived Experience Co-production Group, the Perioperative Care Stakeholder Group, and the Primary Care Assisted Recovery Plan Board. Being a member of the NHS England Peer Leader Network has given her some amazing opportunities to have her patient voice heard.