Eye health and Public health

A doctor with community members behind themJunior doctors are helping to deliver health and well-being projects to local communities

 
This article, written by Clare Walker (Health Education England), describes an innovative programme in the West Midlands which has brought together Foundation doctors, Specialist Registrars in Public Health and community organisations supporting blind and partially sighted people to work on health and wellbeing projects around sight loss. Although the projects ran for only four months they delivered clear benefits to the community, and also gave juniors a better understanding of issues around sight loss and eye health. Extending the Scheme to other specialties and disciplines, in particular, General Practice, would give a unique and useful experience of healthcare in the Third Sector.

More about the Scheme

The West Midlands Public Health Community Fellowship Scheme (WMPHCFS) is an exciting, new programme run from the West Midlands Postgraduate School of Public Health in Birmingham. Community organisations in the West Midlands are matched with volunteer teams of junior doctors to deliver health and well-being projects to local communities. The programme runs for a 4-5 month period between December and April and each doctor spends up to eight days in total working on the project. 
The host organisation proposes the project, which meets their interests and priorities. Each team is supported by a Specialist Registrar in Public Health who provides leadership, technical expertise and works with the community organisation to keep the project on track.

Links with the Local Eye Health Network

Claire Roberts, Chair of the Local Eye Health Network was immediately interested in the Scheme. She promoted the Scheme enthusiastically to organisations in the West Midlands and the result was out of six projects in the first cohort of the Scheme, three teams were working with community organisations supporting blind and partially sighted people.

More about the projects

Sight Concern Worcestershire: Telephone befriending for people with sight impairment

Sight Concern wished to extend their telephone befriending service. This team investigated telephone befriending and provided information to inform a grant application. This included a literature review of the effectiveness of telephone befriending, a survey of organisations providing telephone befriending and recommendations about the practicalities of providing a service. 

Beacon Centre for the Blind: Meeting the needs of the Accessible Information Standard

The Accessible Information Standard was implemented in July 2016 with the aim that all health and care information should be accessible to those with a disability or sensory impairment. This team conducted a needs assessment to explore the needs of sight impaired service users in order to effectively implement the Standard. This included a review of literature, focus groups with service users and local GPs and provided recommendations for implementation of the Standard for patients with sight loss.

Focus Birmingham: A school-based intervention to prevent uptake of smoking

Building on existing work, this team developed, delivered and evaluated an intervention for teenagers to improve their awareness of smoking related eye disease at a time when most smokers take up smoking. The intervention was successfully delivered in schools in the Birmingham area improving awareness and encouraging teenagers to think of stopping smoking.

Experiences

Participants (community hosts, junior doctors and Specialist Registrars in Public Health) were positive about participation in the Scheme and received positive benefits in terms of project outcomes and meeting training needs.

Closing comments

It may appear that such short projects are likely to achieve little either for the participating community organisations or in training the doctors about sight loss and community resources, but the successes of this project has shown this is not the case. At the celebration evening held in April, there was excitement and pride in the air about what had been achieved and an acknowledgement by Rob Cooper, Head of the West Midlands Postgraduate School of Public Health about the quality of the projects and outcomes.  
 
More work needs to be done to assess the ongoing impact of these projects. The Local Eye Health Network, NHS England West Midlands hope to expand this opportunity to doctors in specialty training, including General Practice.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Ruth Goldstein and Sally James from the West Midlands Postgraduate School of Public Health who first developed the Scheme and the three West Midlands Foundation Schools whose support is invaluable.
 
The WMPHCFS developed out of the Team Up volunteering project in London and a similar scheme running in Wessex Deanery.