Sunday, 6 October 2013

What transforms healthcare?

Gastein in Austria is just beautiful, every view a potential chocolate box cover. The buildings even in October resplendent with geraniums, it is surrounded by impossibly green fields and they even have glamorous cows! Now Scotland has spectacular cows too but let's be honest they are usually up to their ankles and mud, I'm not sure that would be acceptable in Austria.

So as a place to go to talk at a health event it may be a bit of a trip, but it was worth it. It was the European Health Forum and the Alliance was asked to speak on self-care. Sadly I couldn't attend it all but I did value the discussions I listened to and was part of. The report we were discussing at the session I spoke at was comparing 10 countries in Europe's attitude to self care and was fascinating. Perhaps what was most interesting was that people did recognise the importance of their role in self care but also that levels of confidence and health literacy were very low, affecting their ability to self care.

Scotland was one of the countries involved and the feedback from the researcher that the focus we have had on self management meant that we scored well overall. I've yet to see the detail but it was hugely encouraging to hear that. We are small nation but it shows what a focus on enabling self management and person-centredness can achieve. There has been political consensus in the main in Scotland re the direction of travel for healthcare in Scotland and that stability in a National Health Service  plus a commitment to improvement has allowed good progress. Having people at the heart as partners at all levels is our great strength and long may that continue to develop and be the positive influence it needs to be.

What was striking too was the commonality of the challenges. Health inequalities are widening across Europe with the affluent supplementing their treatment with private care in many countries. I heard some countries have stopped investing in new drugs or technology because of cost in a recession. Similarly demographic trends of ageing populations as well as public health trends like obesity are leading to shared concerns about the sustainability of health systems. The strength of these events is to share the challenges, learn from each other and give stimulus to change. But I still felt the person with the lived experience was missing from the debates. It we want to lean into the future in a way that enables the shift to people being true partners in their care, that won't happen without them being a key part of everyone forum for debate.

 "Transforming healthcare does not empower people or patients but empowering people does transform healthcare." 

I read this quote this week and thought it was absolutely right. And that's also about recognising the power of different information and support mechanisms. Patient organisations are under utilised resources and I suspect we have yet to learn the power of bloggers, tweeters, Facebook to inform, support and connect- all things that help as all improve our health and wellbeing.

Reasons to be cheerful
As ever it's connecting with people that makes life rich and interesting. I enjoyed time with new people at the health forum. The local people too were friendly and helpful. My German is now not just rusty it's completely failed its MOT.But I did manage the odd word in reply. Events that have most people speaking in accented English somehow always manages to evoke the European song contest for me but I'm glad to say the results from the Scotland jury were all favourable!
And finally Sunshine on Leith is in your cinemas now I hope. You can't help smiling and it's Edinburgh in its glory!Here's the trailer.


  1. It's good to hear you enjoyed the conference and Austria - it's one beautiful country. Just this week I read the same quote online. . . maybe it was sourced from this post? Anyhow, it makes a whole load of sense. Get people involved who already have high stakes in the issues, and see what comes next! ~Catherine

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