What is your current role and what do you enjoy about it?
I currently work for PAGB, the trade association for manufacturers of over the counter medicines, medical devices and food supplements, on its self care programme. PAGB has been driving the self care agenda since the 1970’s. We now provide the secretariat to the Self Care Forum, a collaborative organisation it helped to establish in 2011 and which became a charity in 2016. The Self Care Forum is a resource for people-facing organisations to help their service users better understand how to self care. I manage the work of the charity.
What I most enjoy about my role is the variety, there is a lot to do to further self care for PAGB and the Self Care Forum.
What is the key area you are working on at the moment?
As is the case with most people, there is not just one key area, I am juggling a few!
PAGB has just produced a Self Care and Technology paper with six recommendations for Government and NHS England. At the paper’s heart is the need for reliable consistent health information to help achieve the vision laid out in the NHS Long Term Plan so that people are both engaged and empowered in their own health and wellbeing. Technology is crucial for this, whether it’s about trusted and reliable websites or self care apps that can equip people with the knowledge, confidence and reassurance they need to be more health literate and practice responsible self care.
There are several priority areas for the Self Care Forum, the most crucial is its strategy and business case to secure funding and its future. This work is being led by founding member Dr Knut Schroeder who has recently taken over as interim Chief Executive.
Promoting Self Care Week to national, regional and local organisations is also well under way. At a national level the Self Care Forum’s role is to encourage people-facing organisations to participate in activities during Self Care Week to raise awareness about how people can better look after their own physical health and mental wellbeing.
We are also planning to launch a new resource during Self Care Week; our NHS England funded e-learning course which will be free to pharmacists, GPs and nurses to help them understand how to conduct self care aware consultations for people presenting with symptoms of self-treatable conditions.
What’s your biggest health information challenge?
A huge challenge is actually getting self care health information out to people to help them make the positive changes they need for their health and wellbeing. Our communication channels are limited, and we need to reach more people, mostly through people-facing organisations.
Another challenge is people’s interpretation of what self care means. Self care is not no care. Self care is about supported care, it isn’t about health professionals and the NHS abandoning people, it’s about providing them with the tools, the confidence and the reassurance to become empowered to understand how to take care of their own health and wellbeing better.
How can PIF members help you meet the challenge?
By spreading the word through their channels and reinforcing the fact that people should not feel like health information is a substitute for professional advice but is a support and a resource to help them feel empowered and enabled to live the best life they can when it comes to their health and wellbeing. And to help their family members do the same.
What’s the best thing about working in health information?
Empowerment – knowing that what we are doing is helping people become more empowered and confident. It’s also about the people that work in health, their enthusiasm and energy in helping others is bountiful. It feels as though it’s more than just a job for most people. Take the Self Care Forum board members for example. Most are completely altruistic, they give their time, their support and their experience for free because they are passionate about furthering the reach of self care and embedding it into everybody’s everyday lives. They want self care to be everyone’s lifelong habit and culture.
Why did you join PIF?
PAGB and PIF are completely aligned when it comes to health information, believing good reliable and consistent information to be crucial in helping people to self care. Incidentally, PIF’s Mark Duman was a board member of the Self Care Forum for a short time.
What do you find useful about being a PIF member?
PIF offers so much in terms of resources, advice and events and it is good to be part of a community of individuals and organisations all dedicated to ensuring their information is quality assured and meets the highest of standards. This is particularly encouraging when there is too much unreliable health information too readily accessible.
What top tip do you have to share on health information?
I don’t really have any tips that your members won’t have already heard from PIF. For health information to resonate with people we know it must be simple, engaging, consistent and it is not about communicating it just the once, it must be a constant drip feed of information for people to eventually live it. Indeed, marketeers believe people must hear a message seven times before it sinks in.
What was your lightbulb moment in health information?
It came in 2010 when PAGB did research to find out the barriers to why people were not self-treating their minor conditions such as coughs, colds, headaches etc. We found that people do self care, but only for between 4 – 7 days, after which they often seek advice (generally from a GP), believing their symptoms to be more than a simple cough or cold etc.
It became clear that people needed information on the normal duration of symptoms, coughs for example can hang around for three weeks, whilst colds can make you feel miserable for about ten days. This is crucial health information that can help to reassure people about their symptoms.
Our research also revealed that having made the trip to see their GP, people wanted to be rewarded with a prescription, otherwise, the trip would be wasted! This was supported by our qualitative research with health professionals who explained their patients expected a prescription and that it was also used to signal the end of the consultation. Health professionals were also keen to protect the doctor-patient relationship.
The findings were a revelation because whilst there was plenty of health information around at that time none of it had any details about the normal duration of symptoms. We set about producing factsheets with the normal duration of symptoms and red flag symptoms designed to provide information that people needed to self care. The factsheets were also meant to replace the prescription and to facilitate doctor and patients having a shared conversation so that the next time around, the patient understands exactly how to self-treat symptoms.
The factsheets remain the Self Care Forum’s most popular resource; the cough one has now been accredited by NICE and we have published the first two in a range of nutrition factsheets, on vitamin D and folic acid.
Libby Whittaker, Public Affairs Executive, PAGB and Manager of the Self Care Forum. If you would like more information on the Self Care and Technology paper or the work of the Self Care Forum, including Self Care Week please email.