I want to thank all the staff of NHS Wales and the health department in the Welsh Government who took part in the pilot campaign of Champions for Health and who are now fitter and healthier as a result.
A pilot is an opportunity to learn and there are many lessons we can draw from the activity of the past six months. Champions for Health had an important aim – addressing the major issues of population health, starting with improving the health of healthcare staff.
We know there is a lot of goodwill among NHS Wales staff – we want to be healthier, but sometimes the way we work actively prevents us from being as healthy as we want.
The Olympic Games in London were the highlight of 2012 for many people. Champions for Health aimed to build on the excitement caused by the Olympics – there will be few better times to launch a national attempt at health improvement and tackle a big issue for Wales.
The big questions going in to Champions for Health were ‘will it work?’ and ‘will staff advocate public health messages?’ Would staff become champions for health?
Eight months on from the Olympics and the launch of Champions for Health, we’re celebrating the 450 people who stayed engaged by recording their progress online. We know many people took part without recording their progress, and we know some people didn’t sign up but have been influenced and inspired by their friends and colleagues to pursue healthier lifestyles.
We expected to see some people drop out from the campaign, and they did. But the engagement rate is very positive compared to other health campaigns. Improving personal health isn’t easy – even for healthcare professionals, as my colleague Dr Glyn Jones has pointed out on the BMA Cymru blog. It’s not enough just to give people information and expect them to act on it. Some of the strengths of Champions for Health were the online tools and forums that allowed people to link up and encourage each other.
We also used new technology and social media. Text messages from the campaign mascot Will Power kept people engaged. There were plenty of conversations on Twitter among people taking part – this is key to making health improvement campaigns work. It’s much easier to run the race with friends than to try and run it on your own.
As we start to evaluate Champions for Health we will be looking at what worked best and how we can improve it. Discovering what was helpful and what hindered people from taking part is going to help shape the future of Champions for Health and other campaigns like it.
We are at the end of the pilot, and as one milestone is reached, we are already looking ahead to the next points along the road. We can see people ahead of us – healthcare organisations in other countries have demonstrated the benefit of campaigns like this, both for their employees and the wider population. People are enjoying better health, with less sickness and reduced risk of developing serious illness.
Likewise, people are watching our journey. Champions for Health has generated interest internationally – and there are plenty of people looking to learn from what we have achieved here in Wales. As we learn from the pilot, there is a sense that this is not an end, but just the beginning.
The evaluation will make interesting reading, but we can already say with some confidence that focussing on small, simple changes and supporting people to make changes in their own lives can make a big impact on health – both for individuals, and as a nation.
Dr Alan Willson is one of the directors of 1000 Lives Plus
More about Champions for Health.