How to close health divide in Falkirk

Steps are being taken to reduce the health gap in Falkirk
Steps are being taken to reduce the health gap in Falkirk

Falkirk residents in deprived areas are less likely to enjoy good health than those living in more prosperous parts of town.

That’s a fact that has to change.

The Scottish Government recently formed a special taskforce to look into ways of ridding the entire country of these glaring health inequalities, but Falkirk is already putting findings of previous health reports into effect with a number of initiatives in schools and local communities.

Johnny Keenan has been Falkirk Community Health Partnership’s health promotion lead officer since 2009 and has spent over 20 years in public health.

He said: “During that time I noticed health issues often arose from people’s lifestyles and social situation - I became more aware of the root causes. People are born into these circumstances, so it is often not an issue which is related to choice.”

Back in 2008, the Scottish Government produced the “Equally Well” report, which led to a series of pilot programmes and initiatives designed to address lifestyle and behaviour issues which lead to poor health.

Now the latest taskforce will take the findings of “Equally Well” and the pilot schemes and see if there is anything which can be done to improve or expand on them - something Falkirk CHP is already doing.

Mr Keenan said: “This wasn’t something we had to do, but we decided to use the Equally Well framework and this has given us a head start. The thing I find really positive about Equally Well is it is not driven by targets that have to be met - it’s about the difference that needs to be made.”

Health inequalities are caused by the complex interplay between lifestyles, life circumstances and other economic and environmental issues and, in order to address these factors, the CHP is working with the local authority’s education and housing and social work services, the Council for Voluntary Services and a whole host of partners.

“We don’t want more bureaucracy,” said Mr Keenan. “We want organisations to focus on prevention and early intervention across the entire course of someone’s life. We need to be engaging with people in the community when they are at important transition points.”

Transition points are times when people face life-changing decisions or circumstances and include leaving school, pregnancy and retirement.

“In communities where health inequalities exist the traditional response was to find what is wrong and then have services go in to try and fix it. What we are now trying to do is use the positive aspects within the community.”

Mr Keenan hopes the government realise the importance of prevention when it comes to dealing with health inequalities.

“I would hope they put resources into programmes that promote positive change within communities. People can fix themselves with the right support and enough resources.

“People who make positive health changes feel it is in their power to do so and feel they are in control. These people generally come from more affluent communities.

“People living in the most deprived areas generally feel like they have no control and feel everything is out of their hands. These are the people who need support to feel good about themselves so they can make good life choices.

“The people with the greatest need are the ones who find the services the hardest to access.”

A lot of work is currently being done in four areas - early years, killer diseases, alcohol and substance misuse and mental health.

Coronary heart diseases is still one of the biggest killers in Scotland and Falkirk’s Keep Well project is looking to visit workplaces to give advice to employers and employees about the danger of poor diet, smoking and stress, which can also be helped through the NHS Forth Valley “Stress Control” course.

“People need to develop skills and ways to cope with stress,” said Mr Keenan.

Frontline staff are also being given the necessary skills to impart general health advice to patients.

Mr Keenan said: “We want every patient contact to be an opportunity for health improvement. People with the right training can introduce important health points and advice into the conversation.

“Small things like this can make a big difference.”