It feels like strategy is flavour of the month. (That’s not a bad thing.) Our own second Public Health Strategy for Hertfordshire is in consultation right now, and I have been asked to help with Strategy development for two national voluntary agencies I work with and a major local charity. Meanwhile the County Council’s Corprorate Management Team had a strategy afternoon (always useful) and the Prevention workstream of the STP has to deliver its prevention workplan. Strategy is ever present. It must be the end of the financial year!
Yesterday a very enjoyable and enlightening twitter conversation was started by J Thompson-McCormick on public health strategy, which prompted a range of folk I respect and whose views I learn from to tweet their take on strategy. What struck me was the variety of takes, but some ever present common themes.
That prompted me to do a bit of reflective learning. I produced my first strategy in 1990 as a new local government officer. Since then I have lost count of the number of strategies I have led, had a hand in or simply advised on.
When I came to Hertfordshire I led the process of our Public Health Strategy in 2013. I learned that Hertfordshire likes a “plan on a page” – whatever you do a graphic representation helps. This year I had nothing of value to add when my team did the work with others and did it brilliantly. To me that’s success. They get it. Actually being able to let them do it and clear the space for them was my most useful contribution. What that showed me was that there probably isnt enough space to put a cigarette paper between my ambitions and those of my team. I couldn’t be happier about that.
Some folk think our first Herts Strategy was too detailed ( to be honest. it’s somewhere between a strategy and a business plan) but it does have a strategy on a page. And it was detailed for a reason – Public Health was new to local government and I had to both set out our stall and get permission to do things. I don’t need to make it so complex now. Strategies and our approach to them should adapt and change with circumstances. Now I have to work out how we deliver public health in a very straitened set of financial circumstances and a different partnership and governance world. Some fundamental drivers for our strategy (money, partnerships) have changed. Our approach to what the strategy looks like must too.
The absolute fundamentals
What nearly thirty years of doing strategy has taught me is that there are multiple ways to do strategy, and the acid test is whether it gets you to where you need to be as an organisation.
When I worked in the private sector we had people who used the Strategic Planning Society knowledge and people who used Operational Research techniques, and indeed these can be crucial in the mix of doing good strategy.
I’m convinced that the private sector remains better at intersectoral collaboration – read partnership – than much of the public sector. In my experience private sector partnerships are driven by constantly articulating and driving out the value to each partner, however that is expressed, rather than having a competition about who can fit the biggest pile of caring-sharing management speak into strategies. We could learn an awful lot from that.
The fundamentals of strategy
I think there are only seven fundamentals of Strategy, and those given below are mine. I don’t expect anyone else to agree. I still find a Harvard Business Review article from 2010 on the Five Questions of Strategy hugely useful. That piece begins with the sage advice that “People make strategy more than it needs to be.” There’s a fairly similar piece in Forbes I like to refer voluntary groups to. NCVO produces four extremely good and short videos on strategic planning for the knock down cost of £8.99. These are brilliant and I have used them many times with groups. So use what works for you, don’t assume any single person has THE formula.
1. Does it get you to where you need to be given the context you face? (And no, let’s not analyse that to the nth degree right now.)
2. Does it deliver the value you need, however you conceive that? (partnerships, outcomes, services, income)
3. How do you do it with the least cumbersome set of paperwork and processes? If you have to read across nine documents to work out what you need to be doing, you’ve probably got something wrong. Anyone who tells you rigidly you must have a strategy, a business plan, a delivery plan and a suite of strategic action plans may have it right for them, that doesn’t mean it’s right for you. There is NO hard and fast rule here. A strategy should ideally be a simple high level document with a “how will we get there” plan underneath. But if you combine the two, then that’s fine. That doesnt make it bad strategy. Failure to get results makes bad strategy.
4. Do the science (information, data, numbers, evidence), the art (influencing, leadership, stakeholder views and values) and your instincts (this feels and looks right given the issues we face) chime to tell you across all three of those domains this is right?
5. Strategies live and breathe and change, so expect to be in a different place by the time you get there. The key is whether you adapt as you go.
6. At a glance – can you graphically summarise and represent your strategy on a page? No? Then it’s too complicated.
7. Leadership and culture. The English public sector context is now such that leadership across distributed functions and responsibilities is the key to outcomes. Running empires is a dead leadership tactic for a passed financial era. (That doesn’t mean you let others control you or your budgets. Be a strategic dealer, not a doormat.) Writing a business plan entirely on your own without any reference to anyone else (step forward several bodies we could all name) shows a signal lack of understanding this. Leadership which is about getting my organisation somewhere without reference to others is folly. Leadership which is about ensuring my organisation and others get to where they need to be is hard work, frustrating but essential. Producing a strategy in secret then expecting stakeholders to sign up (the early STP process) is just about the worst way possible to develop strategy and doom it to failure. Do the exact opposite of what NHS England did in directing Sustainability and Transformation Plans in their first six months and I suggest you won’t go very far wrong.
I still think the best strategy I ever worked on was the Catholic Church’s national strategy on influencing healthcare. (As background, in case you’re wondering, over 200 care homes and facilities like counselling centres, with 3,500 projects are run from over 300 Catholic agencies in England and Wales, contributing an estimated £1.2bn of value to health and social care. Recent analysis of ONS data suggests that, compared to their size in the population, Catholics are eight times over-represented in the health and social care workforce in England. )
We had three priorities, suggested by Anthony Levy (an atheist, incidentally) , a man who’s done more strategy than I’ve had coffee, and whose style, take and modus operandi I just love:
- Gathering – bringing people together to support each other and influence others;
- Guiding – articulating why based on ONS data, Catholics are eight times overrepresented in the health and social care professions compared to the general population, the values behind that and why a belief in human dignity drives us to work in health and social care
- Giving voice – Showcasing work, celebrating good practice, sharing what we do
Those three priorities, three years on, spurred action at national and local level with over 200 projects. And we monitor progress and impact under those three themes. Consultant clinicians, bishops, domestics and policymakers worked together to produce it. We start the next strategy process in April 2017.
Getting to a good strategy
So, if those are the fundamentals, how do you get there? In reality, there are multiple ways, and I don’t think I’ve ever stuck exactly to any single formula. The only must do is include people who are relevant – people who will deliver it, stakeholders, end users of this, politicians, leaders, anyone you expect to have on board. I once started a strategy process by gathering people who couldn’t agree round a blank flipchart, said “what do we want to achieve? And we’re not leaving the room till we get agreement” and they produced a very clear set of five strategems within two hours, with some robust facilitation!
On another occasion I got buy in from a group that I would produce an initial rough position paper that they would rip apart and put back together again. And they did. Usually I like to start with someone describing the situation and context, mutually identifying some principles of what will get us through, and then getting the group to articulate and produce a broad framework. And then, usually, you have to have a small group work up the detail and come back for validation, amendment and augmentation. Strategy by committee is painful. Strategy by whole town meeting is impossible.
Where on earth do I start?
Why not start with reading the Farnam Street Blog piece A primer on strategy and then some of the links below? You may or may not then wish to read Richard Rumelt’s book Good Strategy, Bad Strategy if you have the time and inclination. Then you need to decide on i) what you want to achieve and ii) a process to get there (but one you can change if you need to, in order to get the outcome right.)
The Process of Process
I think however you do it, you need a process to get a strategy. That means you need to understand, get folk to agree, and then steward the process you’re using. I like to answer the questions below (and adapt as I go along) so we get a good strategy. You might find the wickedly helpful Dummies.com strategic planning toolkit for dummies helps. And I know people in private, public and third sectors who’ve used this at my suggestion and say it works. I’ve adapted some of these principles from a book by Aubrey Malphurs first published in 1999. Others are my own
- Who are we?
- Why do we do what we do? (Values)
- What kind of world are we facing?
- What are we supposed to be doing in that world? (Mission)
- What are our must dos?
- What are our would like to achieves?
- What kind of organisation do we need to be to survive? (Vision) What values do we need?
- What will success look like? (Outcomes)
- How do we measure progress?
- How will we get there? (Priorities)
- What tools, resources, skills, processes and partnerships do we need? (Leadership, Culture, Skills, Deliverables.)
- Who do we need to engage to get a strategy out of this which people own?
- How do we make sure we adapt as we go along, and deal with pleasant and unpleasant surprises?
If I had a top tip
If I had a top tip on strategy, it is this. Everyone sweeps and looks forward to the future. Very few when they’ve done that then sweep backwards from the future to today, to see if the plan falls apart, which it often will. Sweeping forwards, then backwards, then forwards to correct is essential in my view.
The role of anyone leading a strategy process is one of stewardship. This isn’t “your” baby. It’s a process you are holding to get a group of people or agencies to a strategy that they can own and invest in. “This ain’t about you, princess.” If you can get folk to buy into this, and it feels right, then you’ve done your job.
Reading and learning
There are multiple tools and books out there. There are expensive courses and Master’s degrees and for some agencies these are useful. For our purposes they’re probably overkill. I’ve tried to point you as I go along to the cheap and the free and the valuable above. In addition to the resources above, some people find the On strategy stuff useful. Bear in mind though they are trying to sell you their strategy and performance software. Roger Darlington has a beautifully simple take. HBR’s 10 must reads on strategy is good.
You don’t need massive sets of books and consultancies on strategy for most purposes. Business plans and project plans and delivery plans or whatever you call them need detail in them. Strategies need to blend high level and detail to do them well. In my view this is better produced by the people who will own it with a person or people leading process. Externals, if you use them, are often best to facilitate agreement and ownership rather than write it.
Registration is now open for this webinar for busy public health people who want to know whether behavioural sciences can do anything for them.
Register today for a webinar to be held at 11am-noon on 27th April. This webinar will provide busy Public Health Specialists a route map to understand the breadth of behavioural sciences and how they can be applied in public health, to help increase impact of your plans and strategies. You’ll also hear about the forthcoming national framework for behavioural sciences in Public Health.
Information on joining instructions will be circulated to registered attendees in due course.
Click here to join
The Webinar is now open for registration . Co-led by PHE, ADPH and HPPHN. 27th April. Register here
In 2014 the Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies and others published a paper in The Lancet which argued we need a new wave in public health improvement – if the first was the improvements in life expectancy brought about by sanitary and water engineering, the fifth is cultural. Much debate has followed. I am convinced that the nature of our society is such that social, behavioural, environmental and cultural factors are very much part of the challenge we face in improving and protecting the health of the population. Which is why I believe behavioural and social sciences have an important contribution to make in Public Health.
Some promising starts but need more traction – a quick overview of 16 years’ work
This isn’t a new focus. There have been several attempts to do this before. The American Psychological Association produced a book on this 16 years ago, which is still a good read. A 2005 article also outlined some contributions from psychologists to Public Health. The US CDC produced an outline on its work as early as 2006. There were even special issues of the British Journal of Health Psychology in 1998 and the Journal of Health Psychology on the links between Public Health and Psychology.
More recently Professor Sir Michael Marmot asked the British Academy to produce a series of papers on the contribution of social sciences to Public Health. I was on the editorial group and co-wrote the introduction. I think it was a mixed start: some issues were addressed, many not. Much more remains to be done.
I could produce a bibliography and links list as long as my arm on how epidemiology and spatial criminology, public health and crime reduction, sociology and anthropology and lately operational research professionals have been publishing notable books and papers much more widely on their work around public health issues. I am planning a “rough guide” seminar on this. A webinar for public health people wanting a quick overview of how to navigate this whole world is coming in April 2017. (See the bottom of this blog for more details)
Incidentally, operational research methods – called the Science of better have both an affinity with and much value for Public Health at organizational level, so watch this space for another venture for public health in the next year. I’m also currently working on embedding some of these skills in my own organization through a programme where people who have graduated from our corporate leadership programme undertake a hybrid training programme combining public health skills like problem analysis, evidence-based practice and prioritization and operational research skills like problem structuring, problem analysis and modeling, to have a go at solving some of the challenges we face in the next few years.
Finally, several very useful and straightforward resources I would like to draw your attention to are those aimed at public health professionals by the BPS Division of Health Psychology.
The growing system role and appetite in government
Public Health England has been taking more of a system role in this with some great work shown at their conferences. Amanda Bunten (as of yesterday Dr Amanda Bunten!) one of the PHE team was profiled in The Psychologist with a piece which is great reading for anyone who wonders what a psychologist can do in public health. The work of my own colleague, Michelle Constable, was showcased with that or other local authorities in a recent Local Government Association (LGA) publication on behavioural insights for health used in local government.
But despite this and many other examples I could mention, those of us who have been advocating the stronger integration between the behavioural and social sciences and public health seem to be struggling to get much traction beyond some great work on behavior change, with places like FUSE, and the Cambridge and UCL centres being but a few I single out among many.
The Academy of Medical Sciences report on the health of the population in 2040 applies, in my view, just as much to the need for social and behavioural sciences to work on this area as biomedical sciences. Social Sciences will shortly launch its own report on the Health of the People. I for one see this as adding further impetus to the need to develop this work.
Public Health England have good reason to tell us that government is now very open to the inclusion of social and behavioural science in public health and a range of other issues. And this can only be to the good. That means the rest of us – practitioners, researchers, academics and commissioners – have an opportunity to come together and identify a way of how we all go about doing this together.
The barriers to greater integration and use of social and behavioural sciences in public health remain. From the rich discussions people have given their time and energy to recently, some of those are cultural, some of those are about training those of us did or didn’t get about different professions (in some EU nations they are much better about breadth of foundation training than we are in the UK), but there are two big challenges for me.
The first is mindset – if you see Public Health as a science in its own right, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you are as open as you could be to the insights other sciences have to bring. But if you see public health as an integrating mindset which takes insights from a range of fields- epidemiology, sociology, psychology, law, biology, medicine, toxicology and so forth – and integrates them to improve and protect the health of the population – then openness to new insights becomes a critical priority not just an add on. That brings me to the second set. Even if you have that mindset, how do you learn? To an outsider, the social and behavioural sciences can look fiendishly complex and confusing, and if you have limited time, how do you navigate to insights, tools and perspectives that can help you in your task. The issue of language itself – what do we mean by social science, what do we mean by behavioural science? can put people off. I still remember from my postgraduate psychology training debates on the difference between social social psychology and psychological social psychology that left me thinking the finer debates of philosophical hermeneutics looked simple and non-contentious by comparison.
These are major practice , policy and training issues which we need to find solutions for. I think our efforts to integrate will continue to falter until we address these coherently.
The need to help policy, practice and research meet
This set of challenges were among the reasons I helped found along with colleagues the Health Psychology in Public Health Network. I kept having people saying to me there was a need where practitioners, researchers, academics and commissioners with an interest in this could get support and help. I was determined to make a contribution to addressing this. In three years we have provided a place where over 1,000 people from students and trainees to academics and policymakers have come together on LinkedIn and in full membership. We try to model the Public Health – Psychology integration. I have just finished an amazing three years as first chair. Dr Angel Chater, a health psychologist, has now taken over as Chair. We have even issued our first awards for research students integrating social/behavioural and public health perspectives in their research. I’m hoping a book will come.
Moving as a system: promising work
I think we are on the verge of a major step forward. Yesterday, 17th March 2017, around 50 people representing a wide variety of agencies and stakeholders convened for an initial conversation on what we could do; brought together by the Association of Directors of Public Health (ADPH) , Health Psychology in Public Health Network (HPPHN) and Public Health England. The aim was to articulate the need for a framework for this work, to make the most of how social and behavioural sciences and public health could work together.
A small group with Public Health England, HPPHN, ADPH, LGA, British Psychological Society and Faculty of Public Health had previously convened to discuss and agree the need for work, produce a short document arguing for this, and then convene the stakeholder conversation yesterday.
It has been exciting working alongside Dr Tim Chadborne and colleagues at Public Health England, with the HPPHN and ADPH folks on this. And yesterday we had people as diverse as local authorities, ESRC, British Psychological Society, LSE FUSE, NIHR, many universities Society of Social Medicine, NICE and many more in the room.
We shared a co-written prospectus for developing a national framework for the use of behavioural and social sciences in Public Health and we asked people for their views on whether this was a good idea. We asked them to identify priorities and challenges, and what we should do next. We packed all this into two hours of work. And the day went well, even if the technology kept failing us. We have some rich material to write up, prioritise and turn into a plan.
Suffice it to say that the most important things for me were the atmosphere of consensus and good will in the room, and the fact we got enthusiastic support that we needed to do this. A writing group is being convened with a small number of volunteers and we will start to build more partners into the conversation going forward.
The work is only starting, but I think everyone yesterday shared a willingness and a determination to work together. We’ll keep you posted.
April webinar Behavioural Sciences for Public Health: the rough guide for busy PH specialists | Registration now open | 27th April
PrEP for HIV rolled out nationally would, on the figures I have seen, cost less than the NHS spends on dandruff and paracetamol. Much, much less. But does that make it a good investment? The only way we will find out is through a proper, transparent and robust prioritization process.
The Court of Appeal ruling today means that will now need to happen. The Court has dismissed NHS England’s appeal. It upheld much of an earlier judgment which NHS appealed against. The full judgment needs studying but the effect of the ruling will be that NHS England needs to put PrEP through a fair, transparent and proper prioritization process.
NHS England immediate response
This has been met by a disappointingly grudging and obfuscating release from NHS England https://www.england.nhs.uk/2016/11/update-on-prep/
I’ve blogged elsewhere including in Local Government Chronicle that of course we understand NHS England has to prioritise, the point is it needs to do it fairly and transparently. The tactics over PrEP were distasteful, condemned by charities representing patient groups they tried to play off against one another and, unfortunately, has now cost an awful lot of taxpayers money to confirm what most of us first contended.
NHS England’s news release among other things said three things about the judgment, some of which miss the point:
“First, it establishes that NHS England has the ability but not the obligation to fund PReP.” Actually that’s been the contention of most of us all along. This is a redundant point.
“Second, it means that should we decide to do so, we would not be subject to legal challenge on these grounds from rival ‘candidates’ for specialised commissioning funding.” Indeed. but the contention of many of us is that NHS England needs to face this fair and square through a proper, transparent and methodologically robust prioritization process. Waving round threats about legal action from others isn’t going to let NHS England off the hook from doing this properly. And NHS England seems to be slow to learn that this is just what happened – NAT and LGA took legal action and NHS England lost. So the point of all this, surely, is prioritise properly and fairly. Otherwise we’ll end up back in court.
“Third, it overturns the High Court in helpfully clarifying that Parliament did not intend that the NHS was expected to fund local authorities’ public health responsibilities just because they have not done so.” This is entirely beside the point and is a tenuous reading of the judgment. The point is NHS England CAN , contrary to their argued position, commission prevention initiatives. They contended all along they couldn’t. Let’s not start re-writing the history of the case and its particulars now NHS England have lost.
Things to remember during the coming months
Throughout this and what comes next, we need to remember the following key points:
- NHS England are up against it financially. But so are local authorities. Working together, not resorting to legal action, is the way forward.
- As I said above, PrEP will cost much, much less than the NHS currently spends on Paracetamol, and dandrfuff! And it will, in cost-return terms, save more. It makes, on the face of it, economic sense.
- The bigger prize, and a prize the health economic literature is starting to address, is the effect of investing in PrEP to stop the epidemic and end new transmission in England effectively.
- Fair and equitable prioritization needs to be a key process in the future of health and social care. Time to start now.
The wider issues
Importantly, it is established that NHS England has preventive powers, including powers to prevent HIV and commission drugs like PrEP. This is a victory for good sense and a joined up health and care system, which should put prevention at its heart. This decision makes good sense
- for the taxpayer, because it enables an intervention that will save more than it costs to be commissioned
- for people, because we have another powerful tool in the armoury of HIV prevention
- for a strategy to end HIV transmission in England, which is now within our reach, but only if we work better together, and use PrEP as one of the many tools to achieve that
It’s time to draw a line under this and work together to deliver a joined up HIV and sexual health system, which is what the taxpayer has a right to expect. NHS England has said today:
“In the light of the Court ruling we will therefore now quickly take three actions. First, we will formally consider whether to fund PreP. Second, we will discuss with local authorities how NHS-funded PreP medication could be administered by the sexual health teams they commission. Third, we will immediately ask the drug manufacturer to reconsider its currently proposed excessively high pricing, and will also explore options for using generics. We expect to be able to update on these developments shortly”
That’s immensely welcome, on all fronts.
I think most of us realize times are tight. And NHS England is right that we need to prioritise. My point all along is that their chosen tactics were a poor way to do it. It’s time now for everyone to come to the table, work together, and set about fair prioritization.
Work still to be done?
The work of doing a proper, fair and thorough prioritization process now must begin. This will need to evaluate, fairly and transparently, all the data in favour of PrEP and all the data against, as well as date in favour of other contender interventions. And it will need to compare them, fairly, on a like for like basis.
Having been involved in health care prioritization for many years, up to and including judicial review, the real work starts now. What has happened hitherto has been a tactical game.
It may be the decision is still to prioritise something else, but a few of us are coming together to make sure we subject the NHS process to as much scrutiny as we can possibly give it. The health economics appraisal, the statistical appraisal, the comparative cost-benefit appraisal and the process of decision making will all now be subjected to intense scrutiny. NHS England played the game of “we’ve had legal advice we cant commission this” then played the game of “other candidates might sue us”.
The only safe way forward is a methodologically robust, transparent, equitable and fair prioritization process.
I, and many others, will be watching this with intense interest.
In October, Public Health England produced its national guidance and I was privileged to be quoted in it. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/suicide-prevention-developing-a-local-action-plan . The personal and the professional intermingled in what I said.
Tomorrow (November 9th) we will be hosting our local suicide prevention summit in Hertfordshire. Over 80 people will convene, from a range of backgrounds and concerns, to discuss and shape our future work on reducing suicides locally.
People who have been bereaved, people who have survived attempts at suicide, clinicians, agencies with concerns from transport to NHS and elected members will come together for what will prove an intense and important morning. I will stay for as long as I can before then going to present papers to our Cabinet.
I have in mind right now the inspiration of our Cabinet Member, and my colleagues who have organized and are leading this. Their leadership is writ large throughout this. For me this is an area where elected member drive, public health technical skills and community leaders like the folk behind Hector’s House, Ollie Foundation, SOBS and the MindEd Trust can come together despite austerity to look at the possible.
Since that guidance was published I’ve had a few colleagues in other areas say how they find this area challenging because of previous experiences in their lives. I can relate to that. I find this time of year emotional and this subject bittersweet to the memory. But I think that can be a good and energizing thing. For me, I can’t separate the personal and the professional in this. Though that does mean I need to be very conscious that my experience is not that of others, nor is it privileged or special. It’s just mine.
Suicide prevention for me is personal as well as professional. I’m not going to begin to try to get away from that. I find that this orients me in this whole process. It also helpfully reminds me that I’m not special, and am here to try to serve. Doing that in a world with no money is going to be interesting but I am going to try. We have nothing to fear from allowing the personal to inform, elucidate, energise and challenge the professional.
I sit here with the enduring memory of those in my life I have lost and, thank God, those I have not lost despite attempts, to suicide.
A best friend since I was young (I wrote about him in my quote in the PHE guidance) for starters. Then another great friend, D at whose bedside I, his partner and family spent too long watching him die in discomfort and pain. He was a man talented and infuriating in equal measures. who made an attempt to take his life – no we never did work out whether he really was serious and neither did the Coroner – changed his mind, seemingly recovered and then later just collapsed. He’d made a kind of half-hearted attempt at cutting into his veins. Being him he’d used a very small mother of pearl handled fruit knife.
By the time he collapsed the organ and system damage done by what seems a simple over the counter drug rendered it too late for any of us to save him. We could only hold, weep and watch in powerless frustration. It all felt clumsy. I felt clumsy. Even his funeral – at which I officiated at his request – I felt I didn’t get right. He and his parents wanted us all to clash and be garish. So I found a YELLOW shirt, a PURPLE tie and put the two together. Great. The shop assistant must have though we’d taken leave of any sense of taste. Unfortunately the suit I wore, not quite thinking, turned the whole lot into something muted and nearly not dreadful. (It was 1998, come on!)
Even the F…ing crematorium played the wrong piece of music at the wrong time despite three practices, and when I pressed the button for the lights to go down, the curtains to come round and me to read the committal, naff all happened. And then when we scattered his ashes his partner dropped the urn. On my foot.
D’s mother said after the funeral that she felt very proud afterwards of saying “bum” in a church during her elegy. I was too busy trying to get C, one of D’s mates to get through his poem without choking in tears at the time to notice and realizing someone had nicked the matches I had placed very carefully for the candle lighting in memory. So I even missed that. Then one day I realized D would have found this all absolutely hilarious. And I laughed through my tears.
A third friend, A, got into drugs and couldn’t cope. He’s now got a degree and is a social worker. Another, S, just couldn’t handle what was going on for the people he loved. A long night with charcoal drinks and vomit bowls in a tatty corridor in a hospital in Southern England followed after I found him and took him to A and E. Thankfully, he’s now sorted and thriving. Don’t think he ever forgave me for joining forces with the nurses though.
Unsurprisingly, as I get to doing my introduction to this event, tomorrow, a range of things are going through my mind.
November is always a time of emotion for me. November for Catholics is the month when we remember, grieve for and celebrate our dead. For starters we write a great long list of folk we’ve lost and remember them before God every day of the month. Among other customs which must look odd to the rest of the universe. For Catholics All Saints Day is immediately followed by All Souls day. The community of faith consists of the living and the dead, and they are all to be cherished. There was a time when I found this tradition silly, awkward, embarrassing. I now realize just how valuable it is because it reminds me of those who shaped me for who I am.
Last week I took part in the launch of a website called the Art of Dying Well, a conversation and tool to help those at the end of life and those who love them. I’m one of the stories on the site (my brush with death and what it has given my life. I’m the only person on the site who swears while telling their story. D’s mum would be proud!)
This week I’m at a suicide prevention event. Two weeks from now we will hurtle into World AIDS Day and the AIDS memorial quilt will be at the World AIDS Day Mass, where I will call to mind friends whose lives have taught me much and who I have lost. On 4th December up comes the anniversary of my diagnosis with cancer. Could you believe looking back that this is an energizing and happy time? But it is.
One of the amazing things about this job is that I sometimes find myself in the middle of chains of events like this month and have to remind myself what’s going on. And what’s going on here is about cherishing life, with the personal and the professional informing each other.
How does one hold all this without contradiction? Well, what I am trying to say here is that this all actually makes sense to me. Not terribly sure I really can explain it much better than that. And that means being open to the emotion that’s a part of it. I can no more avoid the emotion of all this than I can fly. Because it’s all too much a part of me. And because it keeps me real, and hopefully not wooden. I can’t do public health without emotion. I think I’m better for it. Whether that helps you I don’t know. But it works for me. Being professional does not mean quarantine for one’s emotions. It means acknowledging them and their impact.
Tomorrow I will have the immense privilege of being with those who despite their bereavement and grief are taking part in a collective exercise to save and cherish life. I know from my own experiences that getting to that place is bloody tough.
I believe in reducing and preventing suicide because the dignity and preciousness of each person means we should seek to prevent suicide wherever possible.
We may have a low suicide rate here, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to reduce it as much as we feasibly can. So for as long as I’m in the room tomorrow, I’m up for the conversation. Because I will be in a room full of people I admire beyond words.
Yesterday (Friday October 21st, 2016) a group of people convened to discuss the future of HIV services. National experts Prof Jane Anderson (National AIDS Trust, Homerton, ex PHE, now King’s Fund ) Dr Michael Brady (Medical Director, Terrence Higgins Trust and Clinician in South London) and David Buck (King’s Fund, leading the future of HIV services work) came and spoke. Their presentations, passion, vision (and from Michael Brady the mathematical modelling for an utter geek like me) were stunning.
Local experts (PHE epidemiologist, local HIV clinicians, vol sector services, social workers, commissioners and others) spoke. People with HIV were engaged (but really not enough, and not diverse enough,we recognise that.)
I opened the workshop with some slides on trying to understand where we are, what that means for commissioners, and where we might want to go. They’re here http://www.slideshare.net/jamesgmcmanus/future-of-hiv-services-hertfordshire .
I also wrote up some suggested conclusions at the end, and they are in the slides above. We’re still writing up the detailed work from people and we will share all slides and work online soon.
A strategic vacuum?
What national event was this?
It wasn’t. It was an event to try and navigate a local future for HIV services in our local area. It was held in what feels like a national policy leadership vacuum. At one point I almost put on an empty table the name cards for policymakers who seem utterly missing from this debate despite having being invited. NHS England were once again conspicuous by their absence from the table.
I thought a little while ago we didn’t need a new and another national HIV strategy. Well, I was wrong. We do. And it’s pressing.
Although the early years of HIV have gone, we still face challenges. Professor Jane Anderson pointed out that however good a thing it is in itself, we risk seeing people who are maintaining viral load suppression as a success despite the fact that there are many other things going on for them, and for some folk a lot of work has to go into getting just that. 90-90-90
UNAIDS targets are, she says, a place within our grasp. But that isn’t enough. I agree. That doesn’t mean we should just continue funding existing models of service either, by the way.
Back to the future?
In some respects we seem to have allowed our narrative on HIV go seriously awry. We talk about it as if it’s a manageable long term condition, with often very little nuance beyond that. And in some respects it may be. But the richness of narrative beneath and beyond that about what this means is needed. In and of itself this long term condition narrative is an impoverished one. It’s neither complex enough nor dynamic enough to articulate the similarities between and differences from HIV and other conditions like Diabetes or COPD.
Twenty two years ago I read a book called “Productive Living Strategies for People Living with HIV”. It changed my thinking at a time when we could only dream of what new generations of antivirals would bring, and the new health challenges which would come as a consequence of people living much longer were as yet unknown.
It’s time to survey the horizon, what we know, and go back to what we learned from those early years about what services need to be in place for what stages of living with HIV infection, and refresh this for our current situation. We need a new narrative that providers and commissioners can coalesce around and one which takes us away from the simplistic “long term condition one.”
Dynamic condition, systems thinking
The long term condition narrative fails for me. When I am faced with a friend who otherwise is holding down a job and is in terms of undectable load a success but needs a weekend of just collapsing in a heap and being cared for, or when I visit someone with multiple mobility and sensory problems which are transient and can’t get mainstream services to do what she needs, or when I visit someone whose anxiety and depression is partly caused by stigma, the long term condition narrative dissolves.
The dynamic nature of living with HIV and the fact that we need a variety of agencies doing different things, but probably one holding the ring, means we need a radical rethink using systems approaches.
I , for one, am excited about what the work of the King’s Fund on HIV futures will bring. Because expert people with and without HIV experience will look at the system and identify some local and national opportunities and barriers and feed into this. It’s long overdue. And the fact we got this bunch of folks to our local seminar was fantastic.
HIV in four voices
It seems we speak about HIV with at least four voices, none of them unified.
- The voice of policy – seems focused on a one note monotone of treatment and testing and little else
- The voice of experts – complex notes rising to a harmony which tells us we need a multitude of foci and a system wide approach to reduce transmission and secure quality of life
- The professed voice of commissioners – has too often repeated the uncovincing melody that HIV is a manageable condition and not understood the nuance or complexity behind that, and seems increasingly out of tune with reality
- The voice of people living with HIV – complex and not well heard yet vital
This discordance needs national and local leadership to once again sound in unison the state of HIV in England and the must dos which flow from this.
Renewal and re-engagement
We face some significant challenges, and we need to navigate a way through them. Some lessons from yesterday were:
- HIV shows different epidemiological characteristics – no one strategy for testing,diagnosis and treatment will work everywhere in England
- The treatment can cause as many problems as it solves
- Official statistics even on testing uptake dont reflect all the work going on
- People with HIV present needs beyond NHS testing and monitoring and these vary by stage of disease and by person
- The unity of the person – physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual – has gotten lost in the discourse about getting folk to an undetectable viral load. That’s brilliant, but the melody of thriving, coping and surviving with HIV is more complex and we must recapture that
- No single national one size fits all strategy is sensible, but there are some things which we need national leadership for – not least a push towards integration
- You can read HIV into the principles of the NHS Five Year Forward View. Where is the leadership?
- Can anyone point me to a single Sustainability and Transformation Plan which addresses this?
- We need to still do more to engage people with HIV in service design
- We need to refresh and renew self management
- We need to ensure services join up
- We need a clear comprehensive system wide view from preventing transmission to diagnosis, treatment and care and self care
- The complexity of HIV as a consequence of all of this is often not well understood by commissioners
We need to articulate the new system from PrEP to Care and back. On 6th December I have been invited to speak to the National HIV Providers’ Forum on something like this, as a commissioner. I will probably learn and take much more than I contribute, but this is a discussion we need to have together.
Jane Anderson brought to life the complexity of HIV with three vignettes of three people who, while all virological successes in 90-90-90 terms, are complex and need more. Stories from people in the room of treatment need and experience ranged from those thriving with HIV who need their testing and monitoring to fit round their lives to those with a range of complications and issues who found existing services dont meet their needs.
Public sector finances
There is less money. Commissioners in a number of areas are cutting HIV services. What we should be doing is sitting down and doing re-visioning exercises to look at what is needed and for what cohort of people.
It is simplistic and untrue to say HIV is easily managed by all. Equally it is simplistic and untrue to say that the service models of fifteen years ago (lunch clubs) are what we need now.
We need a different dialogue on charting a course for services. I attempted to do some of this in my population segmentation slides.
That doesn’t mean financial cuts won’t come. But it should mean that redesign, prioritisation and service integration become more important and fairer. This will continue to have profound implications for providers and commissioners. Jane Anderson suggested that some providers in HIV could branch out to other areas too. Rather than integrate HIV with other generic services, the stuff HIV services have learned needs to be shared with others. I can think of areas like Diabetes, COPD and Heart Failure where the expertise and know how in HIV could be easily transferred to the benefit of many. (My dad had COPD heart failure. Some of the most successful stuff I did with him I learned from friends I cared for years ago.)
All the more reason why we need all the system leaders to sit down around one table together and share one public pound. The taxpayer has a right to that, and so do people with HIV. NHS England, are you listening? We know you have an impossible task with diminishing staff but we could help you out of this…there are ways. Come, let’s sit down and talk about how we help each other.
So what next?
At the end of our workshop we had a range of actions. In short, we’re having a redesign to create a new strategic plan and we are going to try some new ways of engaging people with HIV in this. But several people said it’s about time to go beyond UNAIDS 90-90-90 targets.There were various ways of expressing this, but for now here is my (perhaps rather inadequate) take on this below. UNAIDS 90-90-90 tells part of the story, but everyone felt it wasn’t enough. And together we articulated some more tasks.
Beyond UNAIDS 90-90-90
90% of people diagnosed
90% of people on treatment
90% of people achieving viral suppression
OUR ADDED 90-90-90
90% of people engaged in shaping and designing services
90% of people with optimal quality of life
90% of people aware of the facts on HIV and commited to reducing stigma
Light amidst the encircling gloom
Ambitious? You’re dead right. Achievable? Yes, as a marathon not a sprint. Necessary? I believe so. If we take everything we should believe about HIV – we want an end to HIV ongoing transmission and it’s doable, HIV is manageable, it’s complex, it changes and stigma are huge issues – then these priorities naturally fall out of any decent strategy.
But we need national leadership in this, and that needs to be joined up across all national agencies, not just left to one, while others pick and choose whether to ignore or engage.
Who’s up for it?