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April - May 2009


Change 4 Life: Newham’ s Initiative to Improve Health Services in the Borough

by Melanie Walker

Take a walk down any street in Newham and you’ll see why it’s known as one of the most vibrant, diverse and exciting places in the UK. We have the youngest and most diverse population in the country - over 40 per cent of the 254,000 people in Newham are under 25 years old and more than 100 languages are spoken locally. All of which makes for an exciting area rich in culture, flavour and atmosphere where local people take great pride in being part of a global village.

Add to that the plans for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games and other major regeneration schemes under way across the Borough, and you’ve got what I believe to be one of the most interesting places in the country to live and work.

As the Chief Executive of Newham Primary Care Trust, I’m responsible for improving the health of the population and improving the quality of health services in the area. This includes the local hospital, the local GP or dentist, pharmacists, opticians, district nurses and other specialist health community services. The PCT is a big organisation with a budget of nearly £500 million, employing over 1300 staff.

We are ambitious for the future of health and health services in Newham and have set out a clear agenda for improving the quality of care services as well as the health of local people. Our vision is that:

“The health of all Newham people will be better than other Londoners by 2020 and the quality of services which affect health will be as good as anywhere in the country by 2012.”

But those are just words. I imagine the question you’re asking yourselves at the moment is – ‘so what are you doing about it?’ Well, we are already making progress. People in Newham are living longer and fewer people are dying early from the big killers; cancer, respiratory disease and heart disease. These improvements are due to considerable effort and energy from staff, doctors and other health professionals; and to the fact that people are reducing the risks to their own health by stopping smoking and reducing cholesterol levels.

However, there is much more still to do. For example within the Indian community we know that 19% of Indian men in Newham smoke and 31% of adult Indians in Newham are classified as obese.

A study, funded by the British Heart Foundation, highlighted several health problems amongst British Asians. British people whose families come from the Indian sub-continent are approximately 50% more likely to suffer coronary heart diseases than their European counterparts. Furthermore, 20% are recorded as suffering from type 2 Diabetes, compared with only 3% of the general British population.

India Link readers may be interested to know that while UK guidelines indicate that a Body Mass 0Index (BMI) of over 30 classifies someone as clinically obese, there is good evidence that the risks associated with being overweight start at a lower BMI score for people from South Asia. As you’re probably aware the Indian government uses a BMI of 27.5 as a cut off for obesity, because they recognise that the health risks from diseases like heart disease, diabetes and stroke start at lower BMI levels for their population.

To tackle this we launched a new initiative earlier this year in partnership with GPs and some local pharmacies. The Vascular Check programme offers free preventative checks to all residents aged 40 – 74. The checks aim to identify high blood pressure, abnormal glucose and cholesterol levels and assess someone’s risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease or stroke. Of course as you may have heard through the Governement’s Change 4 Life campaign

( ), enabling people look after their own health is one of the most important things we can do to reduce these risks.  Eating better food, taking more exercise, not drinking alcohol to excess and stopping smoking can make a real difference to how long we live and how well we feel. And health services across the country are working hard on all these fronts to make an impact.

Here in Newham, our commitment to putting people at the heart of decisions about local health services is something I’m particularly proud of. During the summer of 2008 we launched The Newham Health Debate, a new opportunity for everyone in Newham to help shape the future of health services.

A survey distributed to every household invited local people to “Speak Today, Shape Tomorrow”. And more than 3,500 people responded with comments and ideas for how to make local health services better.

In September 2008 we held a question-time style debate where a diverse group of more than 200 residents had the opportunity to ask questions directly to a panel of senior managers and decision makers from NHS Newham and partner organisations.

Of the people who took part in the Newham Health Debate, 76.5% were ‘very happy’ or ‘fairly happy’ with health services; but told us they’d like more GP appointments available at more convenient times, greater cultural awareness in the way services are provided and health care provided with a ‘personal touch’.

In response to this feedback, and in partnership with local doctors,

79% of local GP practices now offer extended opening hours in the evenings and at weekends. In addition, we’re making sure equality and diversity training is available to all staff and promoting the use of health advocacy services for patients whose first language is not English.

While there is still more to do to ensure that everyone in Newham receives top quality healthcare and encourage more people to live healthier lives, I believe that we are on the right track and are fortunate to be supported by dedicated staff who are passionate about what they do and committed to serving people living in Newham.

For more information about how you can improve your health visit the Change 4 Life website

( ) or contact your local NHS Primary Care Trust.

Melanie Walker, Chief Executive

Melanie Walker became Chief Executive of Newham Primary Care Trust in June 2007. She has worked in a wide range of health settings and started her NHS career as a nurse at Barts Hospital in 1984. Before joining Newham PCT, she was the Deputy Chief Executive of Hertfordshire PCT and Chief Executive of Uttlesford PCT. Prior to that Melanie was Executive Director of Social Care and Modernisation at South West London, and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust. 

Melanie has also worked jointly for the NHS Executive and SSI, and as a consultant for the London-based Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, and has also held a number of NHS posts in South Wales covering areas such as planning and commissioning. 

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