A new charitable fund is about to launch in a bid to help community health projects across Tyne and Wear. Craig Thompson speaks to Prof Chris Drinkwater about how medics are now being urged to lend a professional - and financial hand - in making a difference.
Professor Chris Drinkwater worked as a GP in the West End of Newcastle for 27 years.
In that time he saw first hand the desperate need for community-led health schemes which could give support and advice to some of the most poverty-stricken areas of the North East.
Now he is at the centre of a new fund which aims to get people working in medicine to offer financial, as well as professional, support for such projects.
The Medics for the Community Fund is being run by Tyne and Wear’s Community Foundation. The Fund aims to support community health projects by pooling financial donations from medical professionals.
Donors are being asked to offer a minimum of £1,000 each year which would allow their names to be included on the Fund’s web page and allow them to receive a supporter certificate.
Those prepared to offer more than £5,000 would also be entitled to membership of the Community Foundation.
“I worked through the ‘80s, a time of disruption and riots,” said Prof Drinkwater. “And one thing I learned was that health problems are socially determined as well as medically determined.
“Here in the North East we have some of the most fantastic hospitals that carry out incredible and pioneering work - the technology we have is fantastic.
“But out there, in parts of the community, we have some of the worst poverty in the country. People in the West End of Newcastle die, on average, five or six years earlier than people who live in Gosforth and Jesmond.”
Health and wellbeing projects, based within communities where they are needed the most, have a proved record in changing the lives of those with access to them.
The Fund has been launched after the 2013 Vital Signs report published by the Community Foundation about the state of public life in Tyne and Wear, which highlighted a need for improved support to health-led projects.
Prof Drinkwater said: “Today, there is a greater need than ever before to engage people into these projects - but there is less funding available.
“When you have an economic depression like we’ve just undergone, you have increased levels of depression within sectors of society. Giving people tablets is one way of dealing with that. Newcastle has one of the highest prescribing rates for anti-depressants in the country.
“Wouldn’t it be much better to build people’s resilience so they are better able to cope?”
Many of the solutions sound simple, but can be difficult to enact with those most in need.
“Plenty of exercise, a good diet, stopping smoking and drinking less are key factors,” said Prof Drinkwater. “But a lot of these are out of the control of the NHS. So we have to find ways of engaging people through community-led projects.
“We have over 100 community health champions in the area and they are key to recruiting, bringing people in to the schemes, their neighbours, their friends.
“People might not necessarily listen to medical professionals or politicians, but they will listen to their neighbours.”
The plan is to try to grow the Fund year-on-year, increasing its reach to the organisations it supports and the donors it attracts. The Community Foundation will be contributing some of its unrestricted income to the Fund to kickstart it.
Prof Drinkwater added: “We are targeting medics to contribute to this Fund because they are seen as healthcare leaders. We want them to support the message we are trying to get out there and, in turn, support the communities that need help.”
The launch of the Medics for the Community Fund will take place at the Great North Museum next Monday.
The Medics for the Community Fund aims to help organisations delivering health related services in the community such as:
Healthworks was established in 1994 to protect and preserve the good health of the community in Newcastle. It operates from two community centres in the West End of Newcastle and offers a range of health related activities, including exercise, nutrition and childcare.
WHiST - Women’s Health in South Tyneside.
WHiST was set up in 1985 by a group of women in South Shields who wanted a group that could help women in the area improve their mental and physical health through self-help, mutual support and counselling. It has gone on to win a number of national awards.
Stroke North East:
The organisation runs an Out and About Stroke Group which helps in the rehabilitation of Stroke survivors. The survivors are predominantly based in disadvantaged communities across Newcastle. It operates a dedicated mini bus service and organises weekly outings.
This provides homeless people with opportunities to change their lives. It is supporting around 2,100 people at any one time and runs over 50 projects.
People and Drugs:
This project is based in the premises of Silx, a former wine bar in the centre of Blyth. The charity is concerned primarily with the health of young people in the area who are in danger of, or who have already become, addicted to some form of drugs. It offers recreational and educational activities to young people between the ages of 11 and 25.
Mind Active trains and supports local volunteers to provide mental stimulation for older people living in residential care homes mainly in the Bedlington and Lynemouth areas by providing music, structured arts activities and talks free of charge. The organisation currently works in 28 care homes and many of the volunteers are local musicians and entertainers.
The organisation is based in Gateshead and works with older people, particularly those who through disability, dementia or frailty, have little access to the arts. It works with older people and partner organisations to deliver projects, from music to photography, dance to sculpture.
North East Arts Studio:Based in North Shields, this provides studio space and art materials for people with mental health and addiction problems who are often referred by health professionals. It helps support often marginalised members of the community.