A vision for the health and care of all, not least men.

After many requests from not a few the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care, Neil Gray addressed the Scottish Parliament this past week in a speech during which he outlined a vision for health and social care. In his speech he said that:

“I have already outlined to my Cabinet colleagues an overarching vision which will guide our work.

This vision is one with which no one here could argue: a Scotland where people live longer, healthy and fulfilling lives.

This vision is supported by four key areas of work: improving population health, a focus on prevention and early intervention, providing quality services, and maximising access, with all of these underpinned by giving due consideration to the people at the heart of those services.

In the short term we must ensure that our services are delivered in the best way we can within our current arrangements, and in the medium term, we need to begin to transform how we work.

And we must keep our eyes on the horizon, because in the longer term we also need to fundamentally change how we think about the delivery of health and care, driving investment in prevention and early intervention.”

I hardly need to say that those of us who deliver and work in the independent social care sector look forward to being invited to play our part in the shaping of this vision into reality in the short, medium and long term. I very much hope that the stated Expert Reference Group will include those organisations who provide most of the social care delivery because without their expertise then any venture will fail.

Few could disagree with Mr Gray’s vision ‘of a Scotland where people live longer, healthy and fulfilling lives.’ Yet sadly the reality is increasingly one which is quite the opposite and is likely to worsen before it improves.

I was also pleased to hear in the speech the emphasis upon prevention and supporting and caring for people close to their own home. Of this the speech stated:

“This will be underpinned by the principles of accessibility, addressing health inequalities, maximising outcomes, and promoting innovation as well as value for money.”

It was also refreshing to hear of an emphasis on the game-changing nature of technologies – and indeed the social care sector in Scotland is world-leading in the use of such technologies such as wearables, the IOT, Ai and robotics which enable independence and citizen control, albeit that its successes are probably better known outside Scotland than within.

I was reflecting on all this potential for a vision and practical change when I attended a couple of days later the impact and celebratory event of the Leading Digital Transformation in Health and Care for Scotland MSc programme run by the Usher Institute of Edinburgh University in collaboration with NHS Education Scotland and the Scottish Government.

Now into the start of its second year the participants on the programme have been exploring a wide range of topics, ‘from fundamental leadership concerns such as communication and change management, to current critical challenges of the digital age such as systems, interoperability and data sharing.’ It was refreshing to hear some of the 40 plus participants talk openly about how they are tackling real world issues facing those of us in Scotland who access our health and care systems.

It was also inspiring to hear inputs which argued that we need to stop talking about technology as tomorrow’s solution and to grasp the fast-moving pace and reality of innovation which is already making a difference to the health and wellbeing of people – if only we can maximise that potential in Scotland. Sadly I suspect we too often cogitate, ruminate and discuss rather than create, embed and commence.

We have so much we can do better and need to do urgently and in no small way at the heart of our health and social care inequalities in Scotland is the health of men and boys. On Monday (10th June) we start the annual Men’s Health Week which is an event organised by the Men’s Health Forum. Like the Cabinet Secretary’s vision its aim is very much focussed on preventative health and to encourage men to gain the courage to tackle their issues.

We often talk and reflect on health inequalities in Scotland but surely one of the most primary ones is the fact that one man in five dies before the age of 65 and chiefly from preventable conditions.

So in the coming week there is a focus on prostate health. The week is to be called Let’s Talk Prostates (And Everything Else Men’s Health!) As the organisers state:

“Men don’t talk, we’re told. So, for Men’s Health Week 2024 we’re encouraging men to share their stories.

We’re taking our lead from King Charles who, earlier this year, shared that he had a problem with an enlarged prostate. On the day after his announcement, there were 16,410 visits to the relevant National Health Service website page compared with 1,414 visits the previous day. Prostate Cancer UK saw an almost doubling in the number of users of its online risk checker.

This goes to show the difference that honest sharing can make. Most of us won’t have same impact as the King – for a while in the UK media, it was difficult to avoid urologists talking about the prostate and the things that can go wrong with it – but if there is a taboo about men’s talking, well, the best way to beat a taboo is to ignore it.”

I cannot but reflect on how important it is that the three strands of my week just past  combine – a renewed emphasis on preventative health and social care which focusses on where we are; a practical adventurous use of technology to support our wellbeing and a focus on health inequalities, which for the next week at least is upon men and boys.

Men tend to respond well to health programmes that incorporate digital or technological elements, and yet so little of our actual delivery of healthcare, of public health education, of social care delivery utilises the benefits of technology and digital.

We must get better at reaping the benefits of technologies and digital interventions which appeal to men for many reasons but including because they are more accessible and convenient, because they enable engagement and interactivity, and which can be truly personalised to the individual rather than to treat us as a group of individuals.

We have to utilise the benefits which technology give to us in terms of the delivery of health and clinical and care interventions. Digital and technology are not just offering us tools to inform, increase awareness and knowledge, but also to treat, cure and care.

I look forward to contributing to an emerging vision of health and social care which addresses inequalities, but I am increasingly convinced it has to work in close partnership and collaboration with the technological, digital and Ai communities which are already working to effectively improve our wellbeing both individually and societally, and which have I would suggest to date been untapped in their potential to challenge health and social inequalities.

Donald Macaskill

Photo by Jenny Hill on Unsplash