Katie Walkin is a Business Manager in the long-term conditions team at NHS England. Katie recently joined Age UK on a short-term secondment, bringing her experience and insights from working with the NHS to Age UK’s health policy programme. In this blog, Katie writes about her experiences in producing two editions of a ‘Practical Guide to Healthy Ageing’.
Being able to stay healthy in later life is a crucial issue for all of us. We know that older people often do not feel supported to look after their own health, particularly people with multiple long term conditions, including frailty. This has a detrimental impact on their quality of life and health outcomes.
NHS England recognised there were lots of very good detailed individual guides to support older people look after their health, but there wasn’t always a single place for people to go. Improving older people’s care is increasingly a priority for the NHS, so my team set out to produce such a guide, working with the National Clinical Director for Frailty and Age UK.
We set out to produce a readable and practical guide that helped people to stay physically and mentally well by providing hints and tips on how to keep fit and independent. It recognised, as we all should, that there is always something we can do to improve our health and wellbeing. For older people who may be starting to find things more difficult to do, it is particularly important to take active steps to slow down or reverse some of the health challenges we are all likely to face.
The basis for the guide is underpinned by good evidence about some of the issues that could affect your health and wellbeing. The topics are based on the principle risk factors for older people living at home, such as looking after your feet, making your home safe and medicine reviews. By targeting these risk factors, the guide can contribute to supporting people to stay well for longer, particularly over the winter period, and improve the quality of life of people and their carers.
Good mental wellbeing is important for all of us; the guide suggests some things we can do to help or improve our mental wellbeing such as beginning a conversation, helping others, inviting friends for tea and learning to love computers.
Putting the original guide together was a fascinating and humbling experience of genuine coproduction between NHS England, Age UK and older people. For example, focus groups and in-depth interviews with older people helped us to understand how best to communicate these ideas. The contents and style of the guide reflects the feedback from these focus groups.
I was captivated by follow up sessions after initial focus groups which revealed that the people involved had all spent time thinking about the guide since we had last spoke to them, some had made a few changes to their lifestyle and some had referred back to it to try something new. Many of them had told friends and family about the guide and were excited to share what they had learnt.
Since January 2015 over 160,000 copies have been ordered by individuals, charities, GPs, pharmacies, social care and many more to support older people to live well and independently. More recently the guide is frequently ordered by local Fire and Rescue Services to support ‘safe and well’ visits with older people in their homes.
On the 1st October 2015 NHS England and Age UK published the second edition of a ‘Practical Guide to Healthy Ageing’.We have worked with older people to refine and improve the new version. With the support of experts and partnership organisations such as Public Health England and the Chief Fire Officer’s Association, we have also added two new sections to the guide aimed at looking after your brain, oral health and mental health and improving the information on making your home safe.
Feedback has been extremely positive from members of the public as well as organisations, with some areas wanting to create locally tailored companion guides to complement it and other areas planning to incorporate and evaluate the guide as part of the care they are providing for people.
I am very confident that the refined guide will be just as successful if not even more so as the original. I look forward to the next steps with the guide, especially as I am now (for the next 6 months at least) working as part of the Age UK team. I am sure we will really reap the benefits of genuine partnership working.