“A Stalinist NHS quango” is just one example of the kind of newspaper coverage that the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has been hit with according to the Guardian Columnist Polly Toynbee. “Notorious for denying life-saving drugs to terminally-ill NHS patients” was another, hardly more measured, journalistic description Toynbee chose to quote in her opening remarks at this year’s NICE Conference.
But behind these often negative headlines, NICE has been quietly issuing high-quality guidance that has acted as a beacon for a number of public health initiatives across England. The hard work that has been going on in the background in consultation with clinicians, public health experts and, of course, patients, was palpable at the conference sessions.
“Shared Learning: implementing guidance promoting health and wellbeing” plenary highlighted some of the outstanding work that has been making a real difference in local communities around the country.
The first of these, led by Dr Peter Brambleby, Director of Public Health at NHS North Yorkshire and York, looked at the impact that creating close working relationships with both the PCT and the local Council has had on his community. Dr Brambleby stated the case for evidence-based commissioning, breaking down the word to illustrate what he means: co-mission-ing. The ‘co’ reminds that this is collaborative, the ‘mission’ reminds us that we are working together for a common purpose (improving the public’s health), and the ‘ing’ reminds us that this is a verb, an active, ongoing process.
The next two offered more practical examples of public health interventions making a difference in their local communities. Caryn Hall, a Consultant in Public Health at NHS Gloucestershire, outlined the work that they were undertaking with town planners to ensure that built environments are designed to encourage physical activity, helping to tackle the growing obesity problem. Julia Olijnyk, of Addaction Staffordshire, presented her project, a needle and syringe exchange programme for drug addicts in Stafford. She provided real-life illustrations of the helping hand that NICE guidance has provided in terms of engaging pharmacy staff in the project, resulting in positive outcomes and greater engagement with service users.
All three projects were shortlisted in the ‘Health and Wellbeing Category’ of the NICE Shared Learning Awards. Ultimately, the Addaction Staffordshire’s needle and syringe exchange programme triumphed, but all are excellent examples of public health in practice.
“Innovation and Value” was the overarching theme of the 2009 NICE Conference and away from the headlines, these three projects demonstrated those qualities admirably.