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Heather Henry: From treating need to creating wellness

Looking at what is strong rather than what is wrong can help individuals and communities find their own solutions to problems, says the chair of the New NHS Alliance.
heather henry wellness

Looking at what is strong rather than what is wrong can help individuals and communities find their own solutions to problems, says the chair of the New NHS Alliance

Six years ago I lost my job as a deputy director of commissioning due to compulsory redundancy. In the run-up to leaving the NHS I had been introduced to one of the most inspirational nurses I've ever met, Hazel Stuteley.

As a health visitor, Hazel had developed a way of working with disadvantaged communities. Now at the University of Exeter, she teaches communities to take control of their own problems by forming a partnership with local services. Together they tackle the issues that matter to communities, such as antisocial behaviour, housing problems and road safety. The communities are the ones in control.

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Looking at what is strong rather than what is wrong can help individuals and communities find their own solutions to problems, says the chair of the New NHS Alliance

heather henry wellness
Solutions can be found by tapping into community knowledge. Picture: John Houlihan

Six years ago I lost my job as a deputy director of commissioning due to compulsory redundancy. In the run-up to leaving the NHS I had been introduced to one of the most inspirational nurses I've ever met, Hazel Stuteley.

As a health visitor, Hazel had developed a way of working with disadvantaged communities. Now at the University of Exeter, she teaches communities to take control of their own problems by forming a partnership with local services. Together they tackle the issues that matter to communities, such as antisocial behaviour, housing problems and road safety. The communities are the ones in control.

Hazel trained me in asset-based community development. I learnt to stop assessing and treating need and instead to look at what was strong, rather than what was wrong, in a community or individual.

The real experts

I went from flying a desk to walking the streets. I wasn't the expert anymore – the local people were. Experienced health visitors nod when I tell them this. Somehow, it's been commissioned out of them, and I want to bring this back.

Take Alex, a father of three who was 38 when I met him four years ago. He had been sexually abused as a child and was socially anxious and agoraphobic. He spent all day on a computer. But then one day, he was dragged by another father to a group called Salford Dadz that I was supporting.

My job was to enable him and others like him to find their own solutions to their well-being problems. His relationship was breaking down and he suffered a transient ischaemic attack.

Ability to reflect

Alex started by helping to set up a Saturday club for dads and their children. I could see that his skill was his ability to reflect and tell the story of fathers experiencing disadvantage. As a thank you for their hard work I invited Salford Dadz to a local charity night.

When he arrived Alex was full to the brim with anxiety, and said he'd have to go outside for five minutes. I thought I had lost him, but somehow he steadied his nerves, stayed and enjoyed himself. The following day he told me it had been his first night out in ten years.

In May he made his debut on national television on the BBC’s The One Show. He was shown engaging new fathers and explaining to the reporter how sharing emotions with other dads can really help. On the day the programme was aired he got his first job in 18 years.

Control, contact, confidence

At this year's RCN congress I spoke about whether we focus too much on preventing and treating sickness rather than creating wellness. I summarise wellness in the 3Cs of control, contact and confidence.

Alex's life was out of control. He'd lost all meaning and purpose in his life and was socially isolated. Only another father who knew what he was going through could reach him.

On the day we were due to present our final project evaluation to funders and partners, Alex's confidence had 'relapsed' following further relationship problems. I rang to beg him to come, telling him I needed his help. He came along. Then at the end of the presentation he grabbed the microphone and gave the most eloquent explanation of how the support of other fathers had changed his life.

Now he speaks around the country about fathers' well-being. On the Facebook comments following his television appearance, his eldest daughter simply wrote: 'That's my dad.'


heather henry

Heather Henry is an independent public health nurse, a Queen’s Nurse, and chair of New NHS Alliance

 

New NHS Alliance's manifesto for health creation: http://www.nhsalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/New-NHS-Alliance-_...

 

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