What is population health?

Being healthy is more than just not
being ill, it’s about our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. While access to
traditional health services is important, in reality there are many factors that
affect our health and wellbeing: our individual actions and social
connections; the places and communities that we’re part of; the services that are
delivered in our neighbourhoods, and the decisions made by local and national
government all play a vital role in keeping us healthy. John is 50 and has worked as a builder for over 30 years. Recently he’s developed
arthritis and is visiting the GP frequently for pain relief. Unable to
work full-time, he’s become cut off from friends and colleagues and is finding it
hard to get out and about and look after himself Meera’s eight and has asthma and chest problems. There are no green spaces within easy reach of her home and her school playground is by a congested road. Medication helps, but she misses school some days, making it hard to keep up with
her work and friends. These issues can’t simply be treated through health care. John and Meera are both receiving high-quality professional treatment, but
there are many other factors that affect their health and wellbeing. John’s life changed when he chatted to his housing officer on a routine visit. She
encouraged him to join a walking football group run by the local leisure
centre. Slowly he started seeing the benefits of gentle exercise and he began
to enjoy being part of a group with his new team mates. He returned to work
part time, adapting his role to suit him with the support of his employer. And
although he still has health issues, he’s feeling happier and healthier than he
has in years As for Meera, after a campaign by a parent and teacher
community action group, the local council decided to close the roads around the
school during drop-off and pickup times, improving the air quality in the area.
Meera does still need her inhaler, but she no longer misses school as often because of her condition. The campaign also inspired the council’s green spaces team
to propose a new initiative, designed with the public. Everyone in the
neighbourhood will soon benefit from more cycle routes and open space to walk and
play in. Healthy communities are defined by much more than our individual actions or access to traditional health care; green spaces;
social activities; education and employment opportunities; healthy food;
good housing and transport all play a hugely important role. To prevent illness
and improve the health and wellbeing of local communities we need to consider
all these aspects and more. This is called a ‘population health’ approach. In
some areas people, local groups and services are already working together to
improve population health. This isn’t easy, but by strengthening partnerships
across communities, businesses, local government and the NHS – and with support and adequate funding from central government – we can make a difference. Find out what The King’s Fund is doing at www.kingsfund.org.uk/populationhealth

Daniel Yohans

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