Healthy Hospitals

Any number of hospitals in the UK and USA have got their
staff to be involved in songs promoting health behaviour. 
Perhaps there are opportunities for using this talent even
more as part of live events?

Membership organisations offer great health opportunities
Health promoting hospitals are part of the settings approach to health promotion. However their potential goes beyond their own walls. They could be become the heart of health in their communities, as long as they can attract the interest of the public. One way of doing this is to use popular culture.

The UK Coalition Government wants all hospital foundation trusts to be membership based organisations. Most people in England will probably have two such trusts in their area, one for mental health issues and one for acute medical care. However, some trusts will also, in time, take over health centres, health promotion teams etc.

The need to have members from the community as well as staff offers many opportunities, as long as organisations are clear about what they want. As well as voting for hospital governors, members can

  • Be consulted and involved on a range of strategic and operational issues
  • Be a focus for hospital PR campaigns, promoting a positive image of the trust and dealing with any negative stories about it. With an increased move to patient choice this becomes even more important
  • Be persuaded to use specific hospital departments more, such as contraceptive services and breast screening, or become blood donors
  • Be helped to become expert patients
  • Be offered help and advice on healthy lifestyle choices
  • Become volunteers in the trust or leave money to it in their wills
  • Become advocates for all of the above, sharing information with family and friends face to face or via email

 You know what you want. What do members want?
For organisations to be able to use a membership approach effectively depends on a significant number of people in different segments of the community joining. This probably means finding out what their interests are and linking these to the aims of the trust. In some cases people may be actively interested in the trust because of their own experience e.g. a disease they have or a loved one had.
Often however this won't be the case.

One approach is to work with community development workers to find out what medical or public health issues different communities are interested in and tie in membership information with this.

Another approach is to find out what different segments of the population are generally interested in and link membership to that, though still with a health focus. Most of the popular culture topics on this website are appropriate here e.g. football or crosswords. In addition, as membership grows if useful data is collected about members it can also be used to tailor specific emails or letters for them. These can be on different issues related to medical conditions, stages of life or popular culture themed health events and materials. If membership is only open to people over 16, information can also be collected about any children they have. 

Membership organisations must be relevant to everyday life
In practice, for some communities, e.g. religious groups, health may be linked in with their beliefs, such as giving something up for Lent e.g. fatty food. In other cases events can be organised around specific themes such as the World Cup. When England are playing the match could be shown live in a family-friendly alcohol-free atmosphere. A whole range of other activities could be arranged around the match for both children and adults.

For example, based on how healthy people are, how much of the match would they get through? There could be a prize for the winner and general diet and physical activity advice for everyone else.

The transfer value of the team could be worked out. People could then be asked to choose if the trust was given this money what should they spend it on from a list of costed ideas. One of the entries could be chosen at random and a prize won. This activity could either be a consultation exercise or a way of showing how expensive healthcare is, and potentially what good value the trust is. (For more about football and health click here.)

Other events could be based around health related music, comedy or stories e.g. movies with a health theme. Click on the links to get more ideas about what this might mean in practice. This need not be expensive in the long term if members with specific skills are encouraged to volunteer their time. (Alternatively, more traditional arts and health events such as lantern making festivals may be a way of encouraging local people to get involved, interact with NHS professionals, feel part of the foundation trust and become healthier. For more information  click here and go to the 'General arts and edutainment' section. Look for the Wrekenton Lanterns link. Go to page 31.)

Events would only be open to members but people could join on the day. This way a hospital can become a real part of the community and not only in times of crisis such as illness. Health can become embedded in people's lives who normally wouldn't think about it.

As well as events, materials and websites can be produced for members. For example, if social market research backed this up as popular, members could get a regular crossword magazine. This could be based around themes such as health, hospital services, TV doctors and the local area. If membership is large enough, other public sector bodies may well subsidise it through limited advertising. This is also a good way to get people to link to the members' website if answers and additional puzzles are available there. For more ideas on this topic click here 

The membership approach is open to all
Overall, membership organisations offer an excellent opportunity for health services to build a relationship with local communities and become relevant to their lives. In doing so, they can meet the needs of both the public and health professionals. Although in England foundation trusts have a legal duty to become membership organisations, this does not stop any other body from choosing to take a similar approach. It is important of course that membership is not discriminatory and serves everyone that the organisation needs to reach.

To find out about training around these issues click here.

To see references to health promoting hospitals and the healthy settings approach click here and go down to 'Healthy Hospitals'.

To download my whole 180 page report on using popular culture to tackle health  inequalities click here

To download the PDF software to be able to download this file click here