Brightening the future of children with asthma through a social initiative
Evidence suggests that a social approach can raise people’s levels of control in managing long term conditions, so independent public health nurse Heather Henry took it on board to create BreathChamps – helping communities affected by asthma
Evidence suggests that a social approach can raise the levels of control in managing long term conditions, so independent public health nurse Heather Henry took it on board to create BreathChamps – helping communities affected by asthma
I was in Tesco choosing a birthday card for a friend when I heard a child singing the alphabet beside me: ABCDEFG..HIJKLM… And I thought, maybe we should share health knowledge this way, through memorable rhymes, stories and games.
Having asthma as a child can affect your life chances. Children may feel stigma, they may feel like victims and they may lack confidence. They may miss school and perform lower in education than others. I know, because I was that child.
Families also express anxiety because they don't always know how to help. They lose sleep, they miss work and they can be over-protective. Schools and community groups likewise worry about their children with asthma, with child asthma deaths still occurring in the community.
BreathChamps makes it a party
I started something I now call ‘BreathChamps’, with a group of 30 parents and children at a community Halloween Party in a challenging part of Salford. I reckoned if it worked there it would work anywhere.
I had a wolf glove puppet and sang ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf’ at the top of my voice. The children joined in and helped the wolf (who had asthma) when he couldn't blow down the house of straw for coughing. Most either had or knew a child with asthma and correctly identified that he needed a blue inhaler to stop him coughing. Children fell over themselves to give the wolf his inhaler correctly through a spacer, in front of everyone.
Then we added the missing preventer when he couldn't blow down the house of sticks – more inhaler technique practice followed. He had an acute asthma attack after inhaling smoke when climbing down the chimney. The parents and children learned that they needed to call an ambulance and give the Big Bad Wolf ten puffs of reliever inhaler, while sitting him up and keeping him calm.
'A social approach to managing long term conditions can raise people’s levels of control, give them contact so they don't feel alone with their condition and raise their confidence’
I see children's asthma as a family and community issue, where people can learn from each other, not just from doctors or nurses. BreathChamps' ideas have been co-produced with families and communities, so tools make sense to them. Clinical appointments, especially group consultations, become 'asthma parties'. Whole schools learn in their assemblies how nine year old Captain Fearless defeats the Wheeze Monster using just her inhalers, her spacer and her magic goggles. There is plenty of dressing up and laughter. Children with asthma who become the heroes of the story, not the victims, will grow up with less fear and anxiety and achieve more.
A social movement
My aim is for BreathChamps to become a social movement, where stories are passed around– and in so doing our children are kept safe by the whole community. Community leaders such as Brown Owls and tots leaders, librarians and teaching assistants become part of our extended team. If you aren’t a natural performer, don't worry because these people are – so share a poem and a game with them.
The BreathChamps philosophy can be replicated in other clinical areas. It is about giving our knowledge to communities in ways they will enjoy and understand. People can add their own tips and tricks, so we value their expertise as patients and carers.
A social approach to managing long term conditions can raise people’s levels of control, give them contact so they don't feel alone with their condition and raise their confidence in what the New NHS Alliance calls ‘the 3 Cs of health creation’.
About the author
Heather Henry is an independent public health nurse and the Chair of New NHS Alliance