The nurse

Helen Donovan is professional lead for public health nursing at the Royal College of Nursing

Benenden

Essentially, we need to be operating very much more upstream, working on prevention of ill-health and health promotion. There is a need to engage with people to help them lead healthier lives to begin with. We should be using opportunities to raise health promotion messages about, for instance, obesity and the effects of smoking and alcohol. There is a growing awareness of the need to get better at discussing health and wellbeing, and talking about mental health. Fundamentally, we need to be raising awareness of how positive health fits into everyday life.

I also think we should be helping people to navigate the health system better. There can be confusion about where to turn. For instance, we know that A&E is under tremendous pressure and that some people would be better off going to see a pharmacist or another healthcare professional instead. So how do we signpost them to the right place?

Health ought to work much more closely with the voluntary sector, leisure centres, environmental health and housing, for example, to address people’s wider needs.

We also have to find ways of motivating people to take ownership of their own health. We know that just telling people what to do doesn’t work, so we need to get better at working with people and using coaching techniques. If someone says ‘I really want to…’ then we should be picking up on that and exploring it rather than engaging in a tennis match-style ‘do this’ / ‘I can’t’ type of consultation.

We need to find ways of making sure that people make the best use of the services available so they do attend their appointments, monitor their health, take their medications, eat well, come for their annual checks etc. We have to take every opportunity to promote prevention.