Our NHS, our FRS, our future?

The NHS seems to have been everywhere I looked this week. During the course of any regular week a thousand and one things flash across the near horizon, never to be seen again. Sometimes though an issue will go into an orbit around you which means that it is seemingly everywhere you look. This week the NHS occupied that space. Mindful of the flypast of Pluto this week by an unmanned NASA craft, my blog reflects some of the hi-def insight into the NHS that is coming our way through these near encounters.

Firstly, and by way of comment from a follower of social media trends, it was really interesting to see the hashtag campaign #ImInWorkJeremy. I don’t know who started it, nor how it came to spread so quickly, but the ‘campaign’ to remind the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, that thousands of NHS workers were at work 24/7 over the weekend was inspired. His newly announced policy to develop (what he refers to) as the 24/7 NHS has certainly grabbed column inches this week. I’m guessing that he would argue that he has been misinterpreted, mischievously or otherwise, but what a fantastic demonstration of how the news agenda can be developed by individuals at the sharp end of service delivery whose role is far remote from daily media contact.

For those not from around the West Yorkshire area, the photo at the top of this blog is of Quarry House in Leeds. Its a government building with Kremlin-esque architecture, much of which is occupied by the National Health Service administrative machinery. I’ve driven past it many times, and for the first time this week got to go inside to attend a meeting. I’ll admit to my preconceptions in as much I imagined a ‘grey’ building in terms of both decor, culture and mood. In my professional contact with the NHS it  always seems to be so big, so disjointed, so unwieldy and everything else that I would attribute to an organisation that ‘lived in a house like this’.

When I got inside though I was inspired, more by what I heard, and who I met, rather than what I saw – it was magnolia decor not grey! The synergies between the FRS and the NHS have been discussed for quite some time now, occasionally in this blog, and whilst I’ve always recognised the synergies and seen the opportunities to work together for safer and healthier communities it has always seemed that a really joined up piece of proper, significant work was going to be beyond our grasp due, in the main, to lack of agility within the Health Service to respond locally and to help the FRS develop a ‘whats in it for us?’ position. But maybe that has changed.

The Chief Exec of the NHS, Simon Stevens, recently challenged the Chief Fire Officers Association to think about how they could help support the NHS to reduce excess winter deaths. It is estimated that upwards of 30,000 more people than would normally be expected die as a result of winter weather, with the biggest cohort being women living alone over 75 and the majority of excess deaths in owner occupied houses.

Whilst  this challenge was indirectly behind my meeting this week, I was actually meeting with someone in the Long Term Conditions (LTC) Unit of the NHS. LTC affect 15 million members of our population, and this number is rising. The treatment and care for those with LTC consumes 70% of the health and social care budget. 30% of those affected have more than one LTC, this figure increases with age and deprivation.

We are looking to work more closely with the NHS locally in West Yorkshire to make a difference THIS WINTER. We’ve yet to figure out exactly how we will do this, but I’m convinced that we can help in some way. Of course, the FRS is not going to cure these LTCs, in fact in many cases neither is the NHS, but by helping people to better manage LTCs we can reduce demand on the NHS, improve lives, and have a direct, positive impact on those very individuals who make up one of our most significant risk groups in respect of fire.

Longer term, perhaps we are seeing one of the key roles for the FRS of the future being developed. I’ve spoken on recent station visits about needing to ensure that the FRS remains relevant to the community given the falling numbers of fires and incidents, and the related deaths and injuries. We know that most members of our community will never engage with us in our traditional emergency response role. We know that our budget requires us to challenge what we do and how we do it. We simply don’t have the incident demand to operate as we have done in the past. We will, of course, work hard to make sure that we have a resilient, safe and effective emergency response when it is needed. But, and we all know the well rehearsed argument, we need to look at the structure and content of that time when we are not at incidents. That is one of our key challenges, and working with the NHS whether in preventative mode or response mode is an opportunity that we can seize. We are of course the junior partner in terms of size/budget/workforce etc, but we have an enormous amount to bring to the table in terms of our ‘brand’, our can do approach, our epic successes in prevention work, and our need to shape the FRS of the future. Importantly, I get the sense that although the ‘junior partner’, the NHS now recognise what we can do and how we can help them.

The other close flyby with the NHS came by way of the publication of THIS DOCUMENT(Opens in a new window) from the New Local Government Network. New Local Government Network (NLGN) is an independent think tank that seeks to transform public services, revitalise local political leadership and empower local communities. On this occasion their report, supported by CFOA, takes a look at some of the opportunities to widen the preventative agenda, to collaborate with other emergency services, and to achieve greater efficiencies through both structure and scale of FRSs in the future. In particular the report explores the relationship between the FRS and the NHS. Its only 40 pages long, and well worth a read by anyone in the shared space that the FRS, emergency services and the NHS occupy.

The point of this blog? Its to share a view of the possibilities for the future. Going back to my opening point, sometimes you get the sense of gathering momentum behind something significant, a sense that things are lining up. This is one of those times. How we react to this opportunity could well be very significant as we move forward.

This will be my last blog for a few weeks. I’m having some leave, and I’ve no intention of blogging whilst I’m away. Back soon!

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