Thursday, June 9, 2011

Leeds - Wakefield - Yorkshire

Some great work going on at the University of Leeds. Particularly interested in some research with a critical health literacy bent. One study looking at the links between health literacy and women's decision making about pain relief during childbirth and another study about women, diet and exercise. Researchers here are also looking into diabetes, self management and some really interesting work on the information that comes with the various medical devices that people need to self manage. The findings, rather unsurprisingly found that the misuse of such devices can lead to incorrect readings. Really? (Said with irony!) And what are the consequences of having incorrect readings of your blood sugars and insulin? The European Union requires that information provided to patients passes a usability test but this kind of information slips through some kind of loop hole and is consequently excluded. Crazy.
In Wakefield I met with Sam who has led a health literacy program in the local Primary Care Partnership over the last three or so years. Wakefield and its five towns - are nestled between between Leeds and Sheffield and the population is almost as stable as the beautiful old cathedral that sits in the the town's centre (above). But towns like these bear the brunt of economic crisis and consequently there is a lot of disadvantage. Indeed the town has probably been beset by social issues long before us city dwellers ever used the words economic and crisis side by side in a sentence. Sam comes at health literacy through adult education and, in her pre-Trust life, her job was to develop info and resources for adults to develop skills using their interest in, say, football. Again it is this approach to adult learning which manages to move away from the "threat" of learning - and learning is a threat if you have been disempowered by the experience of education - and instead finds common ground that the adult learner can engage with. Sam's passion has lead to the establishment of the "Barge project". The idea dawned on her one day when she realised that the canals ran through the backyards of some of the most disadvantaged communities. The project has developed its own legs over time and successfully takes out groups of locals; distracts them with the driving of the boat and the sheer novelty of being out and about - a holiday at home for people who just don't holiday - and whether they know it or not these people are developing their health literacy. How? Through cooking on the boat, using a knife, cutting a vegetable, talking about stuff, sharing information. Rules around smoking and using electronic gadgets have the affect of making people realise the benefits of being busy and distracted. Strong community development work - not necessarily stuff that can be taken to my workplace, well not beyond what I have been already gathering on the best ways to engage and to pass on information to people and to create environments that encourage generative health literacy. But certainly this illustrates the obvious benefits of such an approach.

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