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Our Essex children and families community service model should be adopted by others in a post-pandemic world, report shows

Health and social care providers across the UK should consider our ‘Civic Health Model’ in Essex as part of their post Covid-19 response to combat health inequality and break the barriers this poses to social mobility, a report published today (6 October) states.

The study by the Social Mobility Pledge, a campaign founded and led by former Secretary of State for Education Justine Greening, says the pandemic should act as a ‘wake-up moment’ as it highlights how health and wellbeing can have a real and stark impact on poverty and lack of opportunity.

And it adds that the care model adopted by our colleagues at Virgin Care in Essex, in partnership with Barnardo’s for Essex County Council and the NHS, could be a force for good nationally as it partners with local people and organisations improving lives.

The report praises the service for:

  • Focusing on achieving health outcomes rather than simply undertaking activity, with important measurables like how ready children are for starting school and healthy lifestyles rather than number of contacts, which is used to judge the performance of the service by commissioners
  • An approach that involves collaborating with local people before they need support to proactively promote more positive health and social outcomes
  • Working with volunteers and developing their skills through practical experience and training, and providing career opportunities for those who want them
  • Significantly increasing the number of volunteers working with the service a this engages local communities and families.
  • Reducing the number of nurse vacancies in the service by training local people in partnership with local universities, providing volunteer and paid placements and bringing about online training through its trainer service, The Learning Enterprise (TLE).
  • Employing and training Looked After Children in the care system to get into health and social care (see case study)

The authors add that Virgin Care:

  • Understands that high quality care should not just be ‘delivered inside hospitals and medical practices’ but by helping people to lead healthier and, therefore, longer and more fulfilled lives.
  • Clearly realises the importance of building relationships with schools and colleges, providing financial investment, establishing volunteering programmes and bringing together strategic partnerships with delivery partners to facilitate these aims, such as with Barnardo’s.

The ECFWS is one of a number of services Virgin Care runs across England in partnership with the NHS and local councils, providing crucial health and social care services to around one million people a year.

ECFWS provides a range of services, including parenting support, interventions for young people with special educational needs and disabilities, providing information for children, parents and school staff on health issues and support for physical, emotional and developmental issues.

It has 29 multidisciplinary Healthy Family Teams that work from district-based Family Hubs and Delivery Sites across the county providing pre-birth to aged 19 services centred around GP practices and clusters of secondary schools, feeder primary schools, nurseries and their communities. In West Essex, the service also provides children’s community health services such as pediatrics, community nursing and therapies.

The authors state the service has demonstrated how the new way of working in Essex, which we launched with Barnardo’s on behalf of Essex County Council and the NHS West Essex Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) in 2017, has brought about a number of benefits.

And it recommends an action plan to ‘scale-up these benefits throughout other communities across the country where Virgin Care operates, where it could operate in the future, and recommends that other providers of health care services should follow Virgin Care’s lead’.

The report states that this is important as the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the true scale of health inequality in the UK with the most deprived areas of England and Wales having 55.1 deaths per 100,000 people, compared with 25.3 in affluent areas.

It shows how the impact of opportunity and social mobility within these groups with lower health outcomes poses a real danger, and how it manifests as a barrier to opportunities.

The authors add that the Civic Health Model in Essex has adopted shows that successful community engagement can boost social mobility, offering new opportunities and improving access to services for marginalised and vulnerable people at the same time.

Justine Greening, the Co-Founder of the Social Mobility Pledge, said: “I was impressed by Virgin Care’s new model of community-led, or ‘Civic Health’ approach, of working upstream to promote positive health outcomes in the communities that would have the largest health inequalities otherwise. Virgin Care’s work in Essex has demonstrated that this Civic Health Model can work in the public health sector too.

“In light of the challenges that the country will face during the difficult recovery period following coronavirus, Virgin Care should continue to share its working model with other parts of its own business, with other parts of Essex County Council and with other councils and businesses across the country.”

Vivienne McVey, our co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, added: “We started Virgin Care more than a decade ago with a simple purpose: to make a difference to people’s lives.

“Health and social care services are crucial to us all. They not only keep us fit and well throughout our lives, but early years services make a huge difference to how we go on to live our lives. Never more than now, following the huge disruption brought about by COVID-19, has increasing social mobility, improving life chances and making a difference been more important.

“We pledge to continue to work to support those who face barriers to social mobility to achieve their full potential – through our services, through employment and through education.”

Richard Comerford, the Managing Director of the Essex Child and Family Wellbeing Service, said: “I feel overwhelmed with pride that Essex Child and Family Wellbeing Service is one of Virgin Care’s many services able to showcase how we’re working towards socio-economic equality of opportunity for our service users, staff and the wider public.

“It is truly satisfying knowing we are making a monumental difference to people’s lives by creating educational and employment opportunities and investing in personal development to enable them to achieve their dreams and aspirations.”


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