Friday, 10 February 2017

The importance of partnership working to improve priority-setting in public health decision-making

Guest post by Sarah Hill, Fuse PhD student, Newcastle University

Last month I attended a workshop in London that explored how local authorities could be supported in setting priorities to improve people’s health and wellbeing. The workshop provided a platform to report the findings of a follow-on study to the Fuse led "Shifting the Gravity of Spending?" project and to explore methods for supporting local authorities in priority-setting.  Watch the video below to find out more about the study.

As a health economics PhD student looking into methods of evaluating public health interventions, the workshop was of interest to me since the prioritisation tools focused on at the workshop are a part of the evaluative toolkit I am examining. Additionally, as a health economist by trade - who was thrown-in at the deep-end of public health just over a year ago when I started my PhD research - any opportunity to meet those working in the public health field is one that I seize in order to broaden my knowledge and appreciation of the public health context.  Particularly public health officers and those working outside of the academic realm.

A full report of the workshop can be found here for those who are interested in the outcomes of the event; I will focus here on a few of the key points from the event.

Small group discussions centred around partnership working
At the close of the workshop, following small group discussions, each group of delegates was asked to feedback one key point that came out of their discussion regarding how to aid the use of prioritisation tools for public health spending decisions. Interestingly, a number of the points fed back from each group were related to partnership working to make decisions; such as:
  •  “gathering together” with NHS partners to ensure funding for effective interventions is secured when benefits may fall outside of public health’s remit and more under the NHS umbrella; 
  • considering a “place based” approach to seek good outcomes within a place rather than within separate organisations and;
  • working with local politicians to move decisions forward by understanding their objectives.
The take-home message I got from these points was that for priority-setting to be most successful in public health, a wider viewpoint needs to be considered given the number of stakeholders outside of public health teams that are involved in funding decisions and interventions being successfully implemented. This point echoes a sentiment voiced by Professor Peter Kelly at the recent Fuse meeting on inequalities (see Professor Paul Johnstone’s blog on the meeting here) who emphasised the huge reduction in both alcohol-related hospital admissions and smoking rates in the North-East since a regional approach has been taken to tackling tobacco and alcohol through pooling local resources to invest in initiatives like Fresh and Balance.

The impetus placed on collaborative working coming out of the workshop has given me something to think about for my PhD research since it appears that being able to evaluate interventions in such a way that incorporates and reflects that way of working is valuable. In fact, this is not necessarily a new thought; incorporating intersectoral costs and consequences has been established as a challenge to be addressed when evaluating public health interventions by health economists previously. A review I recently conducted on existing economic evaluations of public health interventions indicates that there is still a lot of room for improvement when it comes to overcoming this challenge and actually incorporating intersectoral costs and consequences. Often evaluations are conducted from either a health care or provider perspective, thus only considering the costs to those sectors exclusively. Also, of the evaluations I reviewed and those previously identified in the literature, the incorporation of consequences (i.e. benefits or disbenefits) to sectors other than the intervention provider is practically non-existent.

Perhaps if more evaluations were able to reflect who benefits from an intervention and to what extent this may enable more collaborative working between different partners and sectors in either funding and/or aiding with the implementation of interventions. Of course the availability of appropriate data is a real barrier since an evaluation is only as good as its data, thus a drive needs to be made within public health departments to stipulate the collection of appropriate outcomes data from the very beginning of an intervention being commissioned to build up the database for effective evaluations.

Shifting the Gravity of Spending? Workshop to explore methods in public health priority-setting was held on the 17 January 2017, and funded by the NIHR School of Public Health Research and supported by the Local Government Association and Public Health England.  The “Shifting the Gravity of Spending?” project is led by Fuse Deputy Director Professor David Hunter at Durham University.

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