Early in 2017 I was asked to become involved with Community Planning on behalf of the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB). The HSCB is a statutory organisation responsible for the commissioning and performance management of services across health and social care in Northern Ireland, and for ensuring that resources are used in the most economic, efficient, and effective way. Planning is underway to migrate the HSCB into the Department of Health by early 2022.
Community Planning was a new arena for me and it was a revelation in terms of the possibilities of what the Community Planning partners and their wider networks could achieve for the benefit of our population – the focus of all our efforts and our resources.
At the time I became involved, Community Plans were published or well established in their draft form. The combination of the high level of skills of NISRA colleagues with information gathered from community engagement brought about goals for the community which immediately resonated with me. ‘Healthy Communities’ are what we in the formal health and social care sector strive for. We know in our training, our experience, across all professional disciplines and managerial roles that we provide services to enable people to live healthy and fulfilling lives, be involved in their communities, engage in education, and take up employment opportunities. In Health and Social Care Northern Ireland we provide treatment and care 24 hours a day 365 days of the year through Trusts and primary care. What Community Planning offers is for all sectors of society to become involved in improving health and wellbeing. For many this has always been an aspiration. Community Planning enables us to create focus, actions and most importantly of all draws on the resources and assets in the statutory sector in partnership with the community, voluntary, and social enterprise sector, and the private sector.
The Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Community Plan is well named. We need to be connected.
Through the combined expertise of NISRA colleagues and extensive engagement with communities we have identified a long-term outcome – accompanied by clear, measurable indicators:
- Reduce the number of preventable deaths
- Reduce the gap in life expectancy associated with deprivation compared with affluence
- Increase participation in sport or physical activity.
My experience of meeting and working with colleagues from the education sector, Invest NI, PSNI, Libraries NI and others was overwhelmingly positive. The knowledge, expertise, and commitment which all of the Community Planning partners bring to improving health and wellbeing created for me a strong optimism – that formal health and social care services are not alone in aspiring to goals of healthy, engaged populations and are delivering in a measurable way on those goals.
A particularly important element of the work of the Armagh, Banbridge Community Planning Partnership has been their success in securing the support of the Carnegie UK Trust to develop expertise on community engagement. I have been privileged to benefit from some of the learning on this. As we go forward to consider new ways of planning and developing health and social care services which are rooted in local populations, meeting their needs in partnership, the structures, processes and learning from Community Planning will be vital.
Our experience on the ground in these recent months of the serious impact of COVID-19 on all our lives has demonstrated in the most stark way how interdependent we are as individuals, communities and organisations seeking to support health and wellbeing. It is clearly evident that the relationships developed through Community Planning have enabled understanding of where resources, assets and expertise resides and how to bring these together to meet the most fundamental needs of our populations. We have developed and consolidated strong networks which respect sectors, organisations, and individual expertise. I look forward to our continuing to grow, develop and reshape, creating even better understanding and opportunities for co-operation for the people that we serve.