Published on 19 January 2023
One of the region’s biggest NHS employers is celebrating the first cohort of students to graduate from its Health Equity Academy as part of its commitment to take action to reduce health inequalities.
The new academy at South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust aims to make sure that action to change the unfair differences that exist in people’s health becomes embedded in everyone’s work.
The Trust believes it is the first NHS Foundation Trust in the country to set up such an academy, following the innovative appointment of its first Consultant in Public Health in 2019, Ryan Swiers.
It is part of the Trust’s Health and Wellbeing Strategy and long-term ambition to prevent disease, protect and improve peoples’ health and improve healthcare services for the local population.
By understanding what causes health inequalities and taking action to reduce them, the Trust hopes to support patients improve about their own health and wellbeing. This means they may be more likely to go to appointments, take medication correctly and take more control of the things that affect their health and that of their loved ones.
Nine members of staff at the Trust have become the first to graduate from its new dedicated course around tackling health inequalities in healthcare, with that number to rise to 20 each year as it picks up momentum.
The programme, which is available at Degree and Masters level, has been designed with public health experts from the University of Sunderland to look at unfair and avoidable differences in health, what causes them and how as health professionals can take positive action in their day-to-day roles to reduce them.
At a celebration event health in South Tyneside, staff from across the Trust and partners gathered to hear from the first graduates about the projects they have undertaken.
Each was asked to choose an area of work to look at ways to address that issue. These projects result in a stand-alone qualification or can be the starting point of the higher levels of qualification.
Among the first intake was Emma Davidson, a Business Change Manager for the Trust’s Planning, Improvement and Programme Office.
Her project focused on the launch of the Trust’s Tobacco Dependency Service and supporting women to quit smoking during their pregnancy. This looked at the different options available, tailoring the help to create a programme which helps mums-to-be in hospital and through community venues.
She said: “For me, this was an important project to help manage and to think about how we can make an improvement to people’s health. It also helped us look at a mind set and culture and that in turn meant we could think about how to best support our patients.
“The academy has been a really good opportunity to be able to study at this level and to then deliver the project. I enjoyed working with people from different areas of the Trust, so clinical staff and our colleagues from Human Resources, and I learned a lot about their work and how we can all make a difference.”
The NHS has set out Core20PLUS5 as part of its approach to reducing healthcare inequalities. Core20 refers to the 20% most deprived part of the population identified through the Index of Multiple Deprivation, while the five refers to areas for focus to help address this.
In South Tyneside and Sunderland almost half of the population are within that 20%, with the COVID-19 pandemic highlighting this gap even further.
Ryan Swiers said: “There are lots of unfair differences in how healthy people are and how they access and experience health services. This is true everywhere and South Tyneside and Sunderland are no exception. Social circumstances such as the place you live can affect the experiences you have and your general quality and length of life. There is a lot of evidence that factors like education, employment, income and ethnicity can influence how healthy a person is and the quality of life they will have.
“In South Tyneside and Sunderland for example, we know that people live in poorer health than in other areas of the country, but that they also don’t live as long as the national average. While there are some things we can’t influence as a Trust, there are steps we can take to make it easier for our patients to access services and better manage their own health and wellbeing.
“This is about making things fairer and accessible to all those we care for. Through the work we are doing with the University of Sunderland and our Health Equity Academy, we hope to bring about real change by giving our staff the skills and knowledge to take action. We are very proud to be the first Trust to do this.”
Ken Bremner, Chief Executive of South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust said: “The NHS was designed to be accessible to all and we want to make sure we do all that we can to keep that promise. Through our new Health Equity Academy, we aim to show strong leadership to tackle the challenges we face and with our partners to make a real difference for local people.
“This means doing things differently to improve the lives of people who live in South Tyneside and Sunderland. It means putting just as much focus on prevention as we put on curing ill health. It means health inequalities is front and centre of our work. We want to reduce the unfair gaps in health that exist for local people. The circumstances people are born into should not control what happens in their life.”