We asked Sophie, one of our research volunteers, about how she began supporting Health Action Campaign and what’s been the highlight of her time with us.
Q: What led you to work at Health Action Campaign?
A: I always really enjoyed the research I conducted at university during my Psychology degrees; it allows you to expand your knowledge and work with all types of people.
Although I was working in mental health following my studies, I definitely felt that the academic elements were lacking. I decided that becoming some sort of research assistant for a future career venture would be perfect for me so I looked into ways I could gain some more experience - and voilà, after a bit of searching online, I found an advertisement looking for a mental health researcher.
Q: How important is the charity's message that prevention is better than cure?
A: In society there is so much focus on what can be done to reduce the symptoms of mental health conditions or how to reverse obesity etc. However, if we targeted preventing these health issues before they had the chance to arise, there is a greater chance that they wouldn't manifest at all.
I am a supporter of early intervention because it is so important in preventing the development of many conditions which may in turn become extremely difficult to treat once the seeds have been sown - not to mention the impact they will have on the individual and the amount of time/money consumed.
Q: What's been your highlight volunteering for Health Action Campaign?
A: I have been volunteering for Health Action Campaign since early 2018, and in that time I have co-authored an article on mental health featured in Perspectives in Public Health and also become Associate Mental Health Editor for our social media pages. Volunteering here has helped develop my skill set and given me new opportunities. I am excited about continuing to work toward supporting the prevention fight.
I would encourage anyone who is interested in making a difference, helping others and learning new things (including about themselves) to join us as a volunteer!
In the run up to national Volunteers Week in early June we asked Daniela, one of our volunteer researchers about her experience of volunteering with us.
Q: How long have you been volunteering at Health Action Campaign?
A: I’ve been volunteering for around 3 months. In January I received an email from REACH asking for a researcher for a student mental health project in London and I was interviewed the following month.
Q: What led you to volunteer with Health Action Campaign?
A: I applied for the position because I was interested in the topic and I had a long experience of supporting students. I also had some published work on the adaptation of foreign students.
I was a university teacher for many years, but I took early retirement and since then I’ve been volunteering at Cancer Research UK. I was looking for an opportunity to use my experience and knowledge to complement my other volunteer roles.
Q: Have you found that as well as contributing you’ve also learned new things?
A: I feel I have got more from Health Action Campaign than I have given so far.
The project is very well organized and the coordination is excellent. Meetings are well planned and effective. Tasks are distributed according to the interests of each member and everything runs very smoothly. At the end of each meeting I feel I have learnt something new and I feel better for it.
Q: How have you helped?
A: I’ve analysed media reporting on student mental health: I’m focusing on the period between 2008 and 2018, but have also gone back to articles written in 2000 to understand better how the media approach to the subject has evolved.
Mental health issues have attracted much attention in recent years and thus the number of articles on the subject has increased exponentially. This makes my task quite challenging, particularly because mental diagnostics thresholds are changing and because negative feelings and emotions are now increasingly described as mental health issues, in a way that might not have been the case a generation ago – making comparison over time more complicated.
My contribution to the project is from home and the project coordinator is always ready to help.
Q: How important is the charity’s message that prevention is better than cure?
A: When it comes to mental health, very important. That’s why we’re currently analysing different factors associated with student mental health in order to prevent what triggers mental problems.
Q: How have you felt about volunteering with Health Action Campaign?
A: It has been very good to have the opportunity to cooperate in this project and to meet other people who share the same interests.
I certainly would encourage people interested in contributing to a better society to volunteer for Health Action Campaign. Mental health concerns everybody, not only health professionals. The contribution of members of society from different backgrounds is essential if we are to fully grasp the complexity of mental health issues and implement effective actions.
Do you have relevant experience and skills and would like to volunteer to support our health research and campaigning? If so, we look forward to hearing from you - at email@example.com
The NHS hasn’t collapsed – yet. But it is clearly in serious difficulty.
- At least 23 hospitals have had to issue ‘black alerts’ - meaning they were unable to guarantee life-saving emergency care.
- Record numbers of patients were having to wait for 12 hours or more in A & E.
- Eight out of ten hospital trusts are operating in deficit, with closures planned to try to balance their budgets.
So what has caused this crisis? We believe there are three fundamental causes that need to be addressed.
First, there needs to be an honest discussion with the electorate about the cost of medical care and then consider whether funding or public expectations need to change.
That is important because the UK has:
- Fewer doctors per head of the population than most other EU countries - 2.8 doctors per 1000 people compared with 4.9 in Spain and 4.8 in Austria.
- Fewer hospital beds per head of the population – less than 300 per 100,000 people, compared with an EU average of 521.
Second, there needs to be similar discussion about social care.
More older people need care every year but there have been cuts of £4.6 billion in social care since 2010. This is exacerbating pressure on the NHS, with bed blocking a national scandal – elderly patients trapped in hospital beds that are needed for other patients because of lack of care available for them outside hospital.
However, we believe there is a third and more fundamental point. Here in the UK we don’t have a National Health Service.
Despite its name the NHS is actually a national sickness service. Over 95% of its resources are committed to waiting until people fall ill or have an accident and then treating them. Less than 5% is committed to preventing people falling ill in the first place i.e. ensuring national health.
This matters because so much of the illness we see in the UK is preventable and is caused by:
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Unhealthy diets
- Lack of exercise
- Lack of hope and purpose in life
However, we all know that prevention is better than cure. So if we’re serious about ensuring a sustainable NHS, we need to tackle preventable illness.
Whatever our analysis there are no quick fixes.
- To ensure we have as many doctors and hospital beds as our European neighbours will take years (and billions of pounds) to achieve, as doctors need years of training.
- Reversing the £4.6 billion of cuts in social care would be more achievable and would provide some quicker, short term relief. However, with an ageing population, more funding or more imaginative approaches to social care would soon be needed.
- Tackling preventable illness offers the best long term solution. It would reduce demand for both medical treatment and social care and help the NHS become financially sustainable again. However, any government would also need to manage a transition period. Before the benefits start to show through there will still be pressure on A & E waiting lists and GP appointments to manage.
Here are three initial recommendations:
- Set a target, in the government’s new Industrial Strategy, for the UK food and drink industry to become global market leader in the mass production of healthier food i.e. lower in sugar, salt and saturated fats and higher in dietary fibre. This should be good for business and good for the nation’s health - starting to address the issue of unhealthy diets at source.
- Incentivize organisations to improve the health of employees. This should be a win win for employers – meaning fewer sick days lost, enhanced productivity and improved morale. One simple step would be to add a new indicator to Investors in People accreditation i.e. supporting the physical and mental health of employees.
- Increase funding for medical schools and university nursing degree courses, to expand the number of UK health professionals on condition that the medical schools and universities amend their curriculum to include a focus on preventative health – to enable ‘health professionals’ to begin to truly focus on health and not simply the treatment of illness.
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