Public Health Through Partnership 2001

How Health Partnerships are tackling health inequalities

Conference jointly sponsored by the Socialist Health Association, PHA Cymru, and the United Kingdom Public Health Association

Friday, 1st June 2001 All Nations Centre, Sachville Avenue, Heath, Cardiff CF14 3NY

Report by Paul Walker:

The first of June saw a first for PHA Cymru – its first Conference run in collaboration with the Socialist Health Association and our parent body the UKPHA – on the crucial question of whether health partnerships are up to the task of reducing inequalities in health. This after all must be the acid test of any health focused endeavour.

Held at the All Nations Centre in Cardiff with PHA Cymru Executive represented by Malcolm Ward, David Smith, Paul Walker and Marie John, the Conference started with a powerful scene-setting keynote speech by Professor Gareth Williams on the theme “The Determinants of Health – the Necessity for Partnership”. Gareth painted a graphic picture of inequalities in health in Wales linking this to the material, social and spiritual deprivation that followed the collapse of the traditional primary industries in the Valleys and North Wales.

This was followed by quartet of speakers explaining the perspectives of the community, voluntary, local government and health service sectors. Chris Dabbs of Salford Community Health Council gave a highly personal but thought provoking analysis of the necessary components of effective partnerships. A particularly challenging point made was that partnership members should live in the patch they are concerned with – bussing in from the leavy suburbs is just not good enough. John Middleton from Sandwell rounded up the morning session with a description of some of the many partnerships currently operating there. Clearly, Sandwell is the place to be if you are interested in innovation in tackling the broad public health agenda.

After lunch four workshop sessions looked at the politics of partnership, training for partnership working, partnership working for improving health through reducing fuel poverty and measuring the health of partnerships.

After a very brief workshop feedback session the day was rounded off by Geof Rayner, chair of UKPHA, who after a humorous discourse on the meaning of partnership which he illustrated with reference to that TV favourite of the 1950’s, The Lone Ranger, firmly located it within the generally neglected framework of the World Health Organisations Health 21 programme and a very inclusive definition of public health.

After a break for refreshments another high spot of the event was a brief appearance by Jane Hutt who gave the keynote address to the Socialist Health Association’s Annual General Meeting. According to Jane socialism still lives in Wales and a new broad vision of public health and well-being has been born. Wales is certainly an exciting place to be with Jane Hutt at the helm.

But what were the main messages from the event? Firstly, that effective partnership working takes much more than sitting representatives of the relevant agencies round the same table and hoping for the best. It takes planning, hard work, commitment and, above all, leadership. Secondly, that it is not enough to assume that partnership working makes a difference; it must be demonstrated beyond peradventure. Thirdly, that in order to promote effective and open communication within a partnership – a necessary if not sufficient criterion for success – a common language and vocabulary must be agreed. And fourthly, that as partnership is so much the government favoured model it must already be outmoded! A question that was not answered was what new paradigm should replace it – a cooperative model perhaps?

The key question of whether partnerships are succeeding in reducing inequalities in health was, disappointingly but perhaps unsurprisingly, left unanswered.

All in all an interesting day which was good for the profile of PHA Cymru and UKPHA too! And hopefully the start of a fruitful collaboration with the Socialist Health Association.