A healthy view of third sector potential
Grant Sugden has found attitudes to third sector health bodies are positive but real change will require a major effort from all sectors
As the sole representative of the third sector on the Scottish Government's Review of Public Health, I admit entering the process wary of my input being marginalised.
It was, however, a concern that proved unfounded and the publication of the review groups report last week highlights how seriously my colleagues look on the third sector.
Throughout the process, I was impressed with the quality and breadth of evidence we heard from colleagues in the sector about their work and views on future delivery. Equally, I was impressed by the receptiveness of colleagues from the public, private and academic sectors to these views and the general commitment to finding an inclusive way forward.
Waverley Care’s approach to addressing HIV within the African community in Scotland illustrates how the third sector can lead the way when it comes to innovative responses to deep-rooted health challenges
Charity organisations have, of course, long been on the front line of public health in Scotland. We are increasingly, and correctly, regarded as equal partners in service delivery with specialist expertise which make us ideally placed to engage with, and reach, some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
Take, for example, Waverley Care’s work with African communities in Scotland. Despite the fact that these communities are disproportionately affected by HIV, public health campaigns around prevention have consistently failed to make an impact.
Through our African Health Project, we have developed close relationships with African community organisations, such as churches, to raise awareness of HIV, to encourage testing and safer sexual behaviour. The knowledge and experience we have gained in this work also allows us to feed information back to NHS partners to support and improve their responses. Waverley Care’s approach to addressing HIV within the African community in Scotland illustrates how the third sector can lead the way when it comes to innovative responses to deep-rooted health challenges.
The review group identified such collective responsibility and partnership as defining factors of public health and it is what the report hopes to further develop and support.
So what now? The review group’s report has been welcomed by the Scottish Government, with Public Health Minister Maureen Watt expressing her willingness to work with all partners to see the recommendations realised. However, we have seen from the general experience of public service reform in Scotland that progress can be slow and the issue must not be allowed to fade from the agenda.
From a third-sector perspective, continued engagement is a must if we are to play a full and active role moving forward. Coverage of the review group has focused on the recommendation for a national public health strategy and the third sector must surely be closely involved in its development. But we also need to have a clear indication of how the sector can contribute meaningfully to delivery of the other recommendations. Voluntary Health Scotland has already indicated its intention to bring together members for a sounding board event to discuss the review’s findings and the next steps, and events like this will be important forums for discussion.
At the heart of all of this is a realisation of the need for collective action to address the persistent health inequalities that exist in our society and their impact on the health and wellbeing of vulnerable people. There is optimism in the work that is already being done and, while the review may just be the start of this process, it is an important first step.
Grant is chief executive of Waverley Care