How healthcare anchor institutions can empower communities on their doorstep

6th January 2022

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How healthcare anchor institutions can empower communities on their doorstep

As part of the King’s Fund Integrated Care Systems and Place-based Partnerships Virtual Conference, we were delighted to join other industry experts from across the sector as we discussed how anchor institutions could help put health back into the heart of communities.

Defined by the King’s Fund as large organisations that are unlikely to relocate and have a significant stake in their local area, ‘anchor institutions’ not only have sizeable assets that can be used to support community health and wellbeing. Their magnetism in the local community should be used as a force for good – bringing people from across the public, private and VCSE sectors together, alongside the community itself, to tackle health inequalities and inject new energy into our high streets.

The panel discussion provided insights from:

        Our host, Dave Maguire, a Senior Analyst on the policy team at the King’s Fund

        Kate Arden, Director of Public Health, Chief Medical Officer, and Chief Emergency Planning Officer at Wigan Council

        Shanaz Gul, Operations Director of Leed’s Hamara Healthy Living Centre

        Michael Wood, Head of Healthy Economic Partnerships at the NHS confederation

        Prime’s Chief Executive, Leighton Chumbley

The event was representative of the breadth of opinions from panellists and attendees and recognised the pivotal roles we all play in promoting economic growth, improving the experience of those receiving care and addressing the wider determinants of health amongst the diverse populations that we aim to serve as a sector.

So, what were the key takeaways?

Our approach must champion communities on the ground

As leaders in health and care, it’s easy to take a practitioner approach of diagnosing and fixing problems as we do patients. However, rather than tackle things from a top-down perspective, instead we need to position ourselves as on-demand experts – supporting the community by investing in their own ideas. After all, community engagement isn’t box ticking, it’s about redesigning and realigning services around the needs of a changing demography.

Health on the high street is the most accessible opportunity

High streets have long been retail havens, but online commerce has fundamentally changed the drivers for people to come out and access community spaces. While the high street has been seen as on the decline pre-pandemic in this sense, the shift can now be seen as an evolution of purpose. Just as the health and care industry has changed to reflect public expectation, so has the high street – evolving in its composition to incorporate multiple institutions. With communities feeling safer when they are closer to home, bringing healthcare services onto people’s doorsteps – as opposed to asking them to travel to clinical institutions on the edge of towns – will make health and wellbeing as habitual as going to the supermarket.

The notion of doing things ‘at scale’ to maximise the benefit

A small intervention like converting a shop will have a limited benefit whereas redeveloping part of a town centre into an Urban Health and Care Village will maximise social and economic benefits.

With prime locations no longer costing a premium as retail continues its retreat, not to mention the government’s active interest in creating high street agendas and task forces to help communities reimagine the future of the high street,  it is now easier than ever for health and care colleagues to get involved in shaping their local infrastructure upfront.

ICSs must be integrated in nature, not just name

In the knowledge that every community is unique, and that healthcare practitioners aren’t the first to arrive to this conversation, we must use ICS’ convening power to bring people together. We can play a part in shaping a culture of collaboration, empowering the people already operating in this space so that every solution builds on what has come before considering the unique social geography of the community it aims to serve. Afterall, it’s not just about creating environments in which health and wellbeing are actively encouraged but creating resilient spaces that strengthen our communities in the long term.

Find out more about how we are putting health and wellbeing at the heart of communities through health and care infrastructure in our Insights series.

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