A glimpse of Public Health in local government: my reflections

As my time with Nottingham City Public Health nears its end and with postgraduate studies on the horizon, I thought now would be a good time to reflect on my time spent in the department, my work and skills discovered. First and foremost I have a further appreciation for data; the raw quantifier needed to establish where you are at before you can even begin to determine where you are going, or where strategic diversions are needed. When scoping the prevalence of certain eye conditions, working with city population estimates deduced from estimated national prevalence figures has proved challenging. My MPH studies are sure to improve my understanding on the methods used when dealing with such data, recognising its limitations but also its value when needed.  Secondly I’ve been able to see just how interconnected public health work is within nearly all sections of local government involved in improving aspects of public society. Collaborations were found within different sections of the same department, between other departments (e.g.commissioning teams) and with external bodies, including arms of the voluntary sector. Together they form an extensive network of interwoven working relationships. I encountered and liaised with individuals in all the above sectors and so the importance of working together was clearly evident in my work on vision loss within the city. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Public Health team and I wish them all the best in their projects.

SAPC 2013 Regional Conference presentation, Sheffield

On the 5th March I attended the Society for Academics in Primary Care (SAPC) regional conference to present my work on “non-clinical patient needs: mapping diversity in primary care” a parallel session. Dr Alf Collins, Consultant in Pain Medicine at Taunton and Somerset NHS Foundation Trust, and Professor Nigel Mathers were the keynote speakers in attendance. Their talks focused on patient-centred care and, in particular, its influence in the management of long term clinical conditions.  Dr Collins talked about the three principles deemed necessary for the personalisation of care: coordination of care, the engagement of patients in decision-making and thirdly, the supported self-management of care for individuals. He described how a fine balance of all three is something that the UK health system is already working towards but that it requires cultural changes within the system for it to work effectively. Following on from this, Prof. Mathers elaborated on the components needed for true patient ‘activation’; the combination of knowledge, skills and confidence which will allow patients to actively and safely manage their health. 

Poster viewing sessions were scheduled throughout the day and I found one particular study’s poster quite relevant to the work that I have been doing over the past six months. It was on the feasibility and acceptability of Clinical Commissioning in general practice, drawing on evidence from interviews with GP’s, some of whom were saying that it was not their place to do so and that they had entered into the profession to help to care for people, not to ‘population-manage’ or budget for services. This was of particular interest to me as it provided a possible explanation as to why some of the practitioners I had interviewed responded apathetically to mapping out their population’s needs even though after recognising the benefits of such mapping for their patient population (i.e. informing commissioning decisions with cost implications)   

Being the first presentation that I have delivered in front of an audience of health care professionals with academic interests, the planning was slightly more challenging than usual! But having the chance to run-through the presentation beforehand and to receive feedback from the SAPPHIRE group helped me to make the final adjustments. On the day it was well-received and I think it has given me the confidence to do something similar on an even bigger stage!

Power to the public? The layman’s influence in Research

So, during the Departmental Conference, I particularly enjoyed the seminar by a representative of the James Lind Alliance, an organisation that I was previously unaware of. In a way they have been taking a niche approach and have turned the tables around when considering the formulation of research areas and topics. Continue reading

Web Training – PLONE and Web Writing Technique

I attended an introduction to PLONE training course to gain the appropiate ‘web skills’ for managing and updating websites. PLONE is a Content Management System used by the University of Leicester on their website. The training introduced me to the work that goes on ‘behind the scenes’ to allow for the production of a functioning website.

The Writing for the Web training shifted the focus from website management to web content. Prior to attending the course, I was unaware of the importance taking a different approach when working with websites as it was common practice to see information from print media transferred  in its orginal layout directly onto webpages. As far as I knew, very few changes were necessary –  how wrong was I! In fact the example mentioned above was cited amongst the top, most detrimental actions carried out by web authors. Web writing etiquette is slightly different to ‘off-screen’ writing in that certain omissions that would seem improper on a printed document are acceptable, and often encouraged, when addressing a web audience.

I progressed through the course and began to realise just what I really meant when I described some websites as being ‘better’ and ‘easier to use’ than others. ‘Better’ websites were clearer, easy to navigate around, but more importantly, they were telling me the information that I needed to know very quickly. Unlike print media where you are willing to invest time in reading the latest issue or edition (often from cover to cover),  websites act as information sources that can be quickly accessed to find out more about a topic or an activity. So it is important for a web author to bear the user’s intent in mind, designing a website that provides the most efficient way for presenting the information users want to find. Bad websites repel good traffic as interested users, possibly attracted to the relevance of a particular website title from among a list of search engine results, quickly move off the a site when it becomes too difficult and time-consuming to find the information they require.

Examples of eye tracking results when users view a webpage were used in the training to illustrate just when people look the most. This tended to be the top left of any webpage so one should always try to put the most relevant set of information or links in that area. Here’s an example: eyetrackingimage

Source: http://johnnyholland.org/2009/10/ux-an-art-in-search-of-a-methodology/

The tips and tricks were valuable and I’ll be trying to impliment them all as best I can.  I suppose that means I have no excuses for a poorly-designed webpage in future!

Project Management

On the 30th October, I attended the Project Management training conducted by the University of Leicester. I think it was successful in its aim of providing attendees with skills and tips to help manage their own projects, and this was down to its practical nature. I’m sometimes sceptical of theory-laden presentations on practical methods as I feel that they aren’t very good at relating well to the topic at hand; there’s only so much you can get out of reading about applied techniques, but how are you to get a feel for them without giving them a go? So I was really glad that, for this course, this wasn’t the case.

 The discussions within the teams were a good way of finding out about everyone else’s project and it was interesting to see the variations from one project to another. I put my project and all its sub-tasks through SMART and recieved constructive feedback and tips from the course leader and my team. For example, the time it would take me to carry out some parts of my current project (the extensive literature review) first seemed hard to measure as I had not previously carried out a literature search of that scale. Having a statistical method of double-checking my rough estimates through PERT (Program Evaluation and Review Technique) was therefore useful and will be beneficial if I am ever in a situation of producing a new project proposal in future.

The course was full of simple yet key points (or what I term ‘project gems’). A favourite of mine was the importance of acknowledging the difference between ‘Plans’ and ‘Planning’. Allowing for changes to the overarching ‘plan’ through ‘planning’ doesnt necessarily mean that the original ‘plan’ was wrong, the two are simply different in nature with one being more dynamic than the other.