Primary care networks have a unique role to play in supporting their local populations and understanding and addressing the wider health inequalities that exist in our society writes Helen Kilminster, clinical director of People’s Health Partnership Primary Care Network.
Primary care networks (PCNs) allow the potential to develop a unique system that supports our communities away from a traditional medical model and to be adaptable to the real needs and priorities of people.
It has always been people that matter in this world. No one in modern-day society should feel like a burden and that their lives are of no value. In this cruel light of the current pandemic, we see gaps that we had hoped would be no longer. The wedge of health inequality feels more significant and the level of fatalities during this time feels even more painful. While I know I can’t resolve health inequality alone, I am determined to show how small steps can lead to change. The time for action is now. People cannot wait.
It is important to know who our communities really are, understand the cultures and beliefs, listen to what matters to people and acknowledge the barriers to having a good quality of life. PCN resources are not limitless but there are some unrealised possibilities of wider stakeholder collaborations. Are we then better able to support someone through financial difficulty, provide access to food banks or even coach mindsets to allow people to be in control of their own health and wellbeing? We have heard about the way that link workers are supporting people with these wider needs through social prescribing.
The formation of PCNs may be a new concept but to a few this collaborative way of working has been maturing for many years. Regardless of maturity now, we all find ourselves in the middle of a pandemic with no definitive answers and lack of previous experience to lean on. Through such unprecedented times, PCN relationships are forced into a test of trust, understanding and compromise. There is only so much a clinician can do in a short-allotted time. Listening is vital and we all try to meet the needs of the person sat in front of us. Regardless of the length of appointment, at some point that person will leave your room and face their reality, a story we don’t often know or truly understand.
Health inequality is complex and has many contributing factors. Access to healthcare is a concern. There needs to be reassurance of equity. Without quality data we will continue to stumble our way to working up a solution that may not be realistic. Population data does exist but often it is flawed. However, it can help PCNs form a basis to start engagement with other organisations and key stakeholders, inclusive of the local community to create pathways that are meaningful and are likely to be used appropriately. Working with others is essential if we are to understand our communities but also in providing equity of access.
My name at birth was Huong Thanh Nguyen. My parents were refugees and were labelled as ‘Vietnamese Boat People’ along with over 300,000 others at that time. My childhood could have been very different. From an early age, I witnessed how good people in society could help others. I feel so grateful for the NHS in providing us access to screening, life-saving surgery and palliative care. Forty years ago my family didn’t have much of a voice, but they had advocates and representation from people who cared. Today, I will stand up to be that ally in society because I care. My humble start in life and faith in humanity fills me with gratitude and awareness.
Before we listen to others and to the shared stories from our communities, we need to open up our minds. Remove any judgement, any preconceptions and biases from our thoughts. Every life has value and we may not know all visible beings in the community. As PCNs develop, no one should be left behind. It is important that we earn the trust of our communities by demonstrating that our core values and principles are more than just words. We can never ever truly appreciate the journeys of others but while we learn, we can empathise and thrive for a brighter, better future.
A PCN that is inclusive celebrates its diversity and is equitable for all.
Helen Kilminster is clinical director for the People’s Health Partnership and a pharmacist at Slieve Surgery, Western Birmingham. Follow her on Twitter @HPILLminster
Time to reset
The NHS Confederation has launched a new campaign, known as NHS Reset, to contribute to the debate on what the health and care system should look like in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. Health inequalities form a key focus of the campaign. Find out more on our NHS Reset web section.