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Health as a Social Movement

A new report, 'Health as a Social Movement: Theory into Practice', commissioned by NHS England as part of the Five-Year Forward View, sets out how policymakers and practitioners can turn ideas for community development into real “social movements” for health.


The final report of a two-year project by the Royal Society of Arts, New Economics Foundation and NHS England to establish what excellent engagement looks like, the study argues practitioners should move away from a “factory” model of care to build services which are more personalised to individuals and communities - including NHS staff.


In particular, it looks at six case studies where people have joined together to create better care. These are Airedale Social Movement, Wellbeing Erewash, Greater Manchester Cancer Vanguard Innovation, Better Care Together, The Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust and Stockport, Oldham and Tameside.


The report comes as the NHS faces growing demand to do more for less, and be more personal and less top-down in its approach. The Five-Year Forward View also puts a strong emphasis on preventing ill-health and moving away from the centralised provision of services.


This programme concludes that while there is no “one size fits all” solution for practitioners to work with communities, there are a number of common principles that can be applied to developing social movements. These are: 


* Act early

* Collaborate widely

* Bring people together

* Build momentum

* Change culture

* Shift control

* Grow from the local

* Share power


Tom Harrison, researcher at the RSA, says: “As demand on NHS services increases while real inputs fall, it’s more important than ever to tackle the root causes of ill-health.


“Practitioners in the health service, local government and beyond face an array of top-down advice, but it’s important to understand that central prescriptions won’t help deal with the diversity of communities’ needs. Think about if the NHS has listened to HIV campaigners long before they had to take direct action for adequate provision: the quality of many lives would have been improved. 


“Instead we need to earn a wealth of experience in community organising to help people reach their aspirations. Our eight principles will help our health services do exactly that: engage better with local communities to tackle the root causes of ill-health.”


Sarah Arnold, researcher at the New Economics Foundation, says: “When people think of healthcare, they tend to think of GP surgeries and A&E departments. But the big effects on people's health happen long before the point of delivery.


"We know from our work with communities all over the country that when people come together, that's when real change happens. By listening to these communities and working with them, not just for them, health services could see real improvements.​ There are already great community led examples of this happening, but it is really exciting to see the NHS getting involved and helping to create the conditions necessary for action."


Nicola Kay, Deputy Director for Personalised Care Policy and Strategy, NHS England, says: “This report shines a light on what it means to effectively work with people and their local communities, harnessing energy so that care is based on what matters to people, leading to improved health and wellbeing.  It offers a practical guide to creating a successful social movement.”