Simon Banks – “I see you are in the newspaper again”

The following article was originally published on the offical website of Halton CCG (www.haltonccg.nhs.uk).

“I see you are in the newspaper again.”

This is what our Chair, Dr Cliff Richards, said to me yesterday morning. For any NHS manager the first response to this sort of statement is to immediately question whether that is a good thing or not. I often speak to our local media and it was following an interview with the Runcorn and Widnes World that the headline “Health boss speaks out over cuts to benefits” appeared in the newspaper on 10th October 2012. So, why did I “speak out” and what has welfare reform got to do with the NHS?

Our local economy is relatively small and has high numbers of people who are seeking employment and/or are on welfare benefits. This means that Halton has a low level of economic resilience and any change in the economic circumstances of people in the borough, such as changes in welfare benefits, can have a significant impact.

The state of the economy has an impact on health and well-being; there is a wealth of evidence to demonstrate the correlation between a healthy, vibrant economy and health individuals and communities. People with monetary worries or troubles are more likely to access health care; particularly if they are disabled, have a mental illness, have a learning disability or are otherwise vulnerable. These changes are complex (Halton Housing Trust have tried to explain and simplify them on the You Tube film posted below) and require an amount of knowledge, confidence and literacy to negotiate. Not all claimants have the ability to understand and take forward what they need to do to submit or make an appeal in regard to a claim unsupported.

It has been suggested that some people will consequently access health care, particularly GPs, more frequently. This may mean that the services we as a CCG are responsible for in terms of quality and access may be under more pressure.

So, to adapt a famous quotation, no CCG is an island. We cannot ignore these fundamental changes in society. They will have an impact on us. We need to work with our partners in the Department for Work and Pensions, Halton Borough Council, housing associations and the voluntary sector – particularly agencies who provide welfare benefits advice – to raise awareness of these reforms, to increase knowledge and understanding and provide support where needed.

That is what welfare reform has to do with the NHS.

Simon Banks – 12th October 2012

Simon Banks is the Chief Officer (Designate) of Halton CCG (Clinical Commissioning Group)