Nesta’s six months of planning and development culminated last week into their slick ‘The Future of people powered health’ event, which didn’t disappoint. And it wasn’t just down to the inspirational and thought-provoking speakers, although they left the audience with a lot to think about. The day was enriched by multi-sensory feasts provided by innovators in health, with applications in stroke rehabilitation, custom fitted orthoses, and combating isolation, as well as a hauntingly beautiful orchestral composition by the New Note Orchestra as a form of focused addiction rehabilitation. If that wasn’t enough, it was punctuated by intelligent, passionate delegates with many different but relevant points of view; some of whom we were lucky enough to engage and debate with during the afternoon break-out sessions.

If only a solution to achieving a collaborative and supportive people-powered and data-driven health system, in a time of serious financial pressure, were as seamless and well constructed. Or indeed was decided and implemented by the like-minded experts from this event.

Unfortunately, there seems to be so many hurdles to overcome to achieve even a piece of this ideal, that for an individual it can feel overwhelming and paralysing. As a result, people feel powerless to effect any change at all, so do nothing. Hence nothing changes. Some people in the system even feel threatened by change – worried about it rather than embracing it and pushing the boundaries of possibility to create something new, relevant and stronger.

During the course of the day we heard from people who refused to think like that. People who are thick skinned enough to take the knock backs and get back up again to challenge and fight for what they truly believe in, even when hope has disappeared completely from view.

More than that, these driven and passionate innovators, pioneers if you will, understand their area of expertise through experience and listening from within their local community. Only from this well-informed position can we truly hope to understand a person’s needs rather than making assumptions and dictating solutions. We can then work together to find ways to solve the issues at hand.

They are also confident enough to make themselves vulnerable by not trying to make these changes alone in a silo, but by leaning on experts and experiences around them. Sharing their knowledge and collaborating in order to truly change behaviour and outcomes.

But how can we emulate these pockets of truly life changing projects? Should we even try Maybe a one size fits all approach is antiquated and wasteful in today’s society. Is it about understanding the essence of what these amazing teams are trying to achieve and being flexible and open enough to allow other projects to manifest themselves in different ways that best suit the communities that need them? Can we learn from, support and nurture similar innovations and harness the power of many, and make people feel invested in the future of health?

There are many interesting perspectives and proposals put forward surrounding this subject that we took away from the day, but we’d like to share two with you here. The first directly relates to the title of the event. In order to stop people feeling powerless to change, there needs to be a shift. The more balance of power we can have between people and healthcare professionals, the more invested people will be in their future health. Rather than dictating solutions, if these can be reached on a more equal footing there will be a greater understanding of why, strengthening both adherence of treatment for a diagnosis as well as reaching a diagnosis in the first place.

The second is around social prescribing. This is certainly very pertinent given the recent acquittal of the Belgian doctor who wrote his patient a sick note to get them out of a gym contract they couldn’t afford or use.

The restorative powers of social prescribing on well-being and future health can have exponential gains. Having an understanding of people’s lives and acting accordingly can unlock and rehabilitate in ways that drugs and surgery cannot, having a dual effect of relieving financial burden on our health service and time of HCPs, as well as benefiting the people in need of support and our most vulnerable. We should acknowledge the power social interaction can have on a person. Creating opportunities centred around a task or focus to give people’s lives, in many cases, more meaning and something to talk about. This can be taken a step further, in the right cases, by rehabilitating through the power of helping others to instill a sense of purpose and value.

Although everyone wants to ultimately solve the big problem of ‘people powered health’ and making our future health system workable, everyone can and needs to play their part, however small. The more people having meaningful conversations, listening, collaborating and challenging, the better. It’s amazing the ripple effect all this activity can have.

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