Category: Improving Lifestyles & Health

Services and initiatives that improve economic and physical wellbeing.

New year, new service: Lighten Up For Life!

The new year will see us launching a new service for people in Solihull: the Lighten Up For Life weight management group.

Lighten Up for Life has been designed as an extension of the Solihull Lighten Up service (SLU), which we’ve been running for a while. SLU supports people in a number of ways, but a very popular option is a weight management group, so we’ve used our in-house specialists – and over a decade of experience – to design a weight management group with a difference.

The free 12 week programme is funded by Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council and sessions will run at two venues (to begin with) in Chelmsley Wood.

The main difference between Lighten Up For Life and other groups is that this is intended to be a distinct 12 week course, rather than a group that people will continue to go to indefinitely. That’s because we believe weight loss should be a sustained, behavioural lifestyle change. By the end of 12 weeks, we hope the people who attend Lighten Up For Life won’t only have lost weight, but will have made the changes required to keep the weight off. We don’t want the people we work with to be attending weight management groups forever – we want to give them the tools they need to make the changes themselves. For life.

Over the last ten years, Gateway has helped thousands of people to lose weight and keep it off, through services like Health Trainers. The Lighten Up For Life team includes para-professional Health Promoters who have been helping people to make sustained lifestyle changes for many years, as well as an experienced Dietitian, and a Behaviour Change Adviser who is a trainee health psychologist.

And, unlike some other weight management groups, Lighten Up For Life isn’t just about diet. The 12 sessions will include physical activities, ways to manage stress, tips about “food and mood”, and the type of social peer support that we know from experience really helps everyone in a group.

We’re really looking forward to delivering the Lighten Up For Life course and we’re delighted that so many people have already signed up for the first sessions in January. If you’d like to join them, call 0121 456 7820 and ask for Lighten Up For Life to find out if you are eligible.

Health Trainers closure: reflecting on success

Gateway’s Health Trainers service, offering one-to-one support and advice to people who want to make lifestyle changes, will be closing at the end of September.

Health Trainer Wayne pictured at our Family Health and Wellbeing Day
Last week, we looked at some of the numbers and showed how successful the service has been during almost a decade of operation. Gateway Health Trainers supported more than 18,000 people over the years, with more than 90% of people completing their support, and 84% of those achieving or part-achieving their goals.

This week, we thought we’d share some more personal stories, both from the Health Trainers themselves and the people they’ve supported.

Beckie is moving over to work for Gateway’s Pre-Diabetes team, but here she reflects on her year as a Health Trainer and tells us about one of her most memorable clients during that time.

Ralph came to the Health Trainers from the Lighten Up service. Here, he tells us what he has found most satisfying about being a Health Trainer. Sometimes, the successes aren’t as obvious as you think!

Contrary to popular belief, the Health Trainers service wasn’t just about weight loss or physical activity (although of course they helped people with that too!) Many people reported improved mental health and wellbeing, reduced their alcohol intake, or became less socially isolated thanks to their Health Trainer.

Wayne (pictured above at our Health and Wellbeing Day in July) told us how one of his clients came in for help with her weight management, but went on to make many other changes.

“Once she’d made the decision to lose some weight, it felt easier for her to make other changes in her life too,” he says. “One of those things was smoking. She knew she had wanted to stop smoking for a while – especially after one of her grandchildren made a comment about it, saying ‘nanny, you don’t smell very nice’, so the next time she came to see me, she asked about smoking cessation services and I was able to refer her straight away to a stop smoking clinic. A lot of people think it’s really difficult to stop smoking without putting on weight, but because she’d made the decision to change, and made the changes in tandem, she found it a lot easier than she thought.”

Health Trainers pictured in 2016. Margaret is on the far left.
Health Trainer Margaret (left) told us about one of her clients, who was referred for weight loss, but whose issues went a bit deeper than that. “She rarely left the house,” says Margaret, “so she wasn’t doing any physical activity at all. She also had a diagnosed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder which meant that she had a lot of discomfort around eating. She hated certain foods because of her phobia of crumbs and dirt, and didn’t eat any fruit or vegetables.

“So I supported her by taking things really steady and helping her to mentally prepare for the changes to meals. First we substituted just one item of food at a time in each meal for a piece of fruit or veg. Then we started getting her out of the house, for just two or three minutes a day. And she really worked hard. Every time I met her she was going out for longer and longer periods of time and eating more and more healthy foods.

“By the end of the support, she had already lost a stone and a half, and was walking down the road to meet me in different locations. I’m so proud of her! And it’s so rewarding for me, too. I have really loved this job.”

As you can see, the service means a lot to staff and their clients. We hope that, in a future without Health Trainers, people will continue to get the support they need.

End of an era: a celebration of the Health Trainers service

It’s a sad time for Gateway, as funding from Birmingham Public Health comes to an end for one of our longest-running services.

Gateway Health Trainers, pictured in 2011. Wayne (back row, left), Hana (front row, left) and Richard (front row, centre) are still with the service

The popular Health Trainers service, offering one-to-one support and advice to people who want to make lifestyle changes, has been decommissioned and will finish at the end of September.

All our Health Trainers are now working hard to finalise arrangements with their remaining clients and get everyone to a place where they feel they have achieved at least some of their goals.

Although it’s a sad time for us, it’s also bittersweet, as we reflect upon the Health Trainers’ many successes and achievements. So we thought this would be a good opportunity to have a look back at the service and share some of the stories and statistics with you.

The Health Trainers service was started in 2008. By the time the funding ends, we will have worked with more than 18,000 South Birmingham residents, with more than 90% completing their support.

Over the last two years, the service has changed very slightly. Rather than focusing our support in the most deprived areas of Birmingham, we now focus on people with a level of vulnerability. This can include recent offenders, people with substance misuse, people who have experienced domestic abuse, or mental ill health, and people who are in temporary accommodation. More than a third of the 2000 people we work with every year are in this group.

When a Health Trainer starts working with someone new, they help them to come up with a set of achievable goals to work towards. These often include losing weight and becoming more physically active, but they also include stopping smoking, or even becoming more confident and socially active.

Over the last decade, Gateway’s Health Trainers helped people to achieve, or part-achieve, the goals they set themselves in 84% of cases. For example:

  • Physical activity: 91% of the people we worked with needed to increase their levels of physical activity, and 85% did
  • Nutrition: Of those who were eating less than the recommended level of fruit and veg, 52% of those classed as “low” and 60% of those classed as “very low” resolved the risk
  • Alcohol: 45% of those who had a risk relating to drinking more than the recommended level of alcohol resolved that risk
  • Mental health: More than two-thirds saw an improvement in their mental wellbeing, according to WEMWBS measurements at the beginning and end of support

Dr. Asfia Aftab is a GP Partner at Vicarage Road Surgery, one of the GP surgeries that Gateway Health Trainers worked with. When told about the end of the service, she said, “I am sad to hear this news. As you know, we had a great experience with Health Trainer services for our patients in Kings Heath and say they were a very valuable part of the primary care services we provided. We had a lot of great anecdotal feedback from patients.”

As Josh explains, below, Health Trainers is a “whole person” service and one of the biggest benefits of the service has been the ability to offer people time. Time to build up a rapport, learn as much as possible about a person, and really talk things through.

Josh came to Gateway after completing a degree in Psychology; first as a volunteer, and then as a Health Trainer. He has used the skills and knowledge gained as part of his degree to back up his work with Gateway, helping people to make significant lifestyle and behavioural changes.

Grant will help over 100 people improve their wellbeing

Thanks to a Discovery Grant from the Santander Foundation, we will be able to develop and deliver a new course this year – one that will help over 100 people in Birmingham to improve their mental health.

The course is designed around the “Five Ways to Wellbeing“, an evidence-based government strategy that sets out five simple actions a person can take to improve their wellbeing. The grant will allow us not only to develop the content for a five-session course, but to trial its delivery in eight venues around the city.

Mental wellbeing is a vital part of living well. This course is one that we have wanted to pilot for a while, so we’re really pleased to have been chosen to receive a grant that will help us to do this. The grant will help not only with research and development costs, but with practical costs too: things like training materials, room hire and the cost of a facilitator in each venue.

We’re already talking to a number of other local organisations about delivering the course to a range of people. As well as our community sector partners, we’re also speaking to employers because we feel this course could be really valuable in terms of encouraging healthier workforces. One place we’re looking to work is within the NHS; we think this could be a good way for the NHS to support the commitment made in its Five Year Forward View ‘to ensure the NHS as an employer sets a national example in the support it offers its own staff to stay healthy’.

The Gateway Five Ways to Wellbeing course

The course we’re developing will encourage participants to take part in activities based on the Five Ways to Wellbeing.

Like all of Gateway’s work, the content of each session will flexible, allowing participants to lead, and identifying and building on the strengths they already have.

The “five ways” are all simple suggestions – small steps that it will be easy to take – and based around self-awareness. By becoming more mindful of your own wellbeing, you can build confidence and resilience, and so reduce health risks.

“Be active” encourages physical activity because, put simply, exercise makes you feel better! The course will allow each group to tailor this step to their own mobility and fitness levels – so it could be anything from a ten minute stretch, or a walk in the park, to a bike ride or regular swim. As on our Pre-Diabetes courses, we’ll be encouraging people to decide as a group what activities they’d like to do – then we’ll help them to do it.

“Connect” will encourage participants to engage with the people around them. We’ll be looking at relationships and how to build them, whether that’s friends, family or neighbours. Gateway’s own staff and staff at the partner organisations will be able to direct people to activities in the area where they can meet likeminded people, and we’ll also be encouraging the people in the group to connect with each other to take part in future activities, if they want to.

“Give” is another way to create connections. After all, doing something for someone else is really rewarding, and it can be something as small as a smile! We’ll be looking at the ways in which people are already giving (whether they realise it or not) and how making some time to treat yourself can make it easier to do things for others. If people want to give more back to their communities, we may be able to put people in touch with volunteering opportunities, too.

“Keep learning” is all about challenging yourself to learn something new, or reconnecting with an old hobby or interest. Whether people want to learn to cook, learn a practical skill, or take on a new responsibility at home or work, we’ll be there to support them. We’ll be encouraging people to share their own skills and experiences with the others in the group and we’ll also be looking at other local activities and groups where people can try something new.

“Take notice” is probably the most important step for the people we will be working with. Becoming more aware of the world around you, and giving yourself time to reflect, is vital to your mental wellbeing. We’ll be encouraging people to take a little more notice of the little things, and to take time out for themselves, each day. So many of us complete our daily routines without taking much notice of nature or the changing seasons, but taking some time to reflect on the smallest experiences each day can help you to appreciate what matters to you.

We’re really pleased to have been chosen to receive a Santander Foundation Discovery Grant. Even the smallest funding awards – this one is £5000 – can make a huge difference to our work. We are looking forward to delivering this pilot course to at least 100 people, and hope that it will open the doors to allow us to support many more.

Could we deliver the Five Ways To Wellbeing course at your workplace? For more information, contact Michelle Smitten on 0121 456 7820.

Health Trainers: experts who add value

Could your organisation benefit from Gateway Health Trainers’ expertise?

The Health Trainers service can now be tailored to the needs of a specific group or organisation, and commissioned directly. As well as traditional one-to-one support, Health Trainers now design and lead flexible wellbeing programmes for groups in a range of settings. If you are looking for creative ways to motivate your workforce or client base, a Health Trainer could be just the ticket.

Health Trainer group at the Signing Tree
Health Trainer Richard (top row, 3rd from left) with interpreters and clients at the Signing Tree, where we have been working with BID Services to run a signed Health Trainer group.

After all, Health Trainers aren’t just about physical exercise and healthy eating; they offer preventative health advice and encouragement that changes people’s lives.

As well as weight management advice, Health Trainers help people to learn how to budget and how to cook. They help people who smoke, or are at risk of diabetes or high blood pressure, to reduce their risk in the long term. They help people to become more confident and more socially active, as well as offering practical help with things like housing, benefits, and finances.

Over 40% of the people we worked with last year have both physical and mental health needs. We understand healthy living goes hand in hand with good mental health, so our Health Trainers know what to do and who to involve to reach that balance.

We also know there are strong links between good health and wellbeing, and employment. Over the last decade we’ve supported many people back into work by helping them to reduce their anxiety and build their resilience. For those already in work, support from a Health Trainer can help to build confidence, lower sickness rates and raise morale.

Could this kind of support help your organisation too?

Over the last year, Gateway Health Trainers have worked not just alongside GPs in their surgeries, but with an increasing number of local organisations including Jobcentres, Cerebral Palsy Midlands, the Signing Tree and Better Pathways. Health Trainers’ tried and tested methods can be tailored to add value to all kinds of other services. Give us a ring on 0121 456 7820 to find out more.

Case Study: Better Pathways

Better Pathways (formerly BITA Pathways) is a mental health charity in Birmingham which specialises in offering training and work opportunities for adults with mental health problems. Gateway Health Trainer Wayne (pictured) got in touch with Michael Summers, a Recovery and Employment Adviser, to create a six-week Health Trainer package for service users at Better Pathways, supplementing the great work they already do around mental health recovery and employability.

Health Trainer Wayne pictured at the Gateway Family Health and Wellbeing Day

The first thing Wayne did with the ten people who were referred into the sessions was to get everyone to start a food diary.

“It’s one of the easiest things you can do to kick-start a healthy lifestyle change, and yet it’s one of the most eye-opening,” explained Wayne. “It helps us to start to see patterns, and from there you can start making really simple changes.”

Mohammed’s diary showed that he rarely ate fresh food, but ate microwave meals twice a day. Together, he and Wayne looked at the food labels of some of his regular meals and Wayne pointed out the high levels of salt he was consuming. Mohammed started replacing some of the ready-meals with fresh fruit and veg, and managed to cut his intake to just two microwave meals a week. It’s a simple change, but it’s likely to drastically reduce his risk of having a stroke or a heart attack.

Dale was eating a lot of snacks throughout the day – and his food diary helped him to notice just how many! Thanks to the food diary and the weekly sessions with Wayne, he found it a lot easier than he thought he would to stop buying them, and put temptation out of his way. Not only is he losing weight as a result, but he’s saving so much money, he’s decided to save up for a bike!

As well as healthy eating advice, which included some fun, hands-on cookery sessions, Wayne offered one-to-one advice for everyone who came on the course. He also helped Better Pathways to set up a walking group for service users, which now meets every Friday for a sociable half-hour walk round the park – another simple lifestyle change that impacts mental wellbeing as well as physical health.

The positive social element of the Health Trainer support was a nice surprise for many of the participants – who started arriving earlier and earlier each week just to have a natter and a cup of tea, and continue to walk together regularly. But the biggest change was weight loss, with all ten clients losing weight as a direct result of the course. As a group, they lost a total of 5 stone 3 pounds (33kg)!

Michael, a Recovery and Employment Adviser at Better Pathways, says, “we believe that healthy living goes hand in hand with healthy mental health, so having the service with us was a huge benefit to our clients. All of them reported benefits such as weight loss, healthy eating, and knowing how to cook.”

You can hear more from Michael in the video below.

Wayne says, “it’s been really rewarding to see people make such big changes in just six weeks. I’m really proud of everyone I’ve worked with at Better Pathways. Not only have people lost weight – and they’ve lost a lot of weight! – they’ve gained confidence and made new friends. It just shows, no matter where you are in life and what your abilities are, a lot can happen if you have the right support.”

If you would like to talk about working with Gateway to deliver a Health Trainer service at your organisation or workplace, please contact Jemma Abbott on 0121 456 7820.

A note – and a message for GPs

Our funding from Birmingham Public Health comes to an end in September, when the Health Trainers service will be decommissioned. We’re continuing to support everyone who’s already been referred into the service, but after the end of September we will no longer be running the service in the same way.

Some of Gateway’s Health Trainers, past and present

The numbers show that Health Trainers has been a popular and successful service. By the time the funding ends, we will have worked with more than 18,000 South Birmingham residents, 85% of whom were referred by their GP or another member of practice staff. Health Trainers have assisted people to achieve or part-achieve the goals they set themselves in 84% of cases.

We’d like to express our gratitude to GPs for the way they’ve worked with us and supported our Health Trainers over the years. Many GPs hosted a Health Trainer in their surgeries and our Health Trainers tell us they really appreciate the way the GP Practices made them feel part of the team. Thank you for making them feel so welcome and valued.

We’re very keen to continue providing Health Trainer support to surgeries, as well as to other agencies and organisations, which is why we’ve come up with a cost-effective, flexible package for GPs. If you’re a GP or Practice Manager, please contact us to find out more about how we can continue our partnership.

Fun for all the family at our Health and Wellbeing Day

Medals for those who completed the 5K!

Thanks to everyone who came to our Family Health and Wellbeing Day in Cannon Hill Park on Saturday. We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did!

This annual event has grown, in the last few years, from a simple Fun Run into a community event for all the family. This year’s Family Health and Wellbeing Day included health checks, parenting information, dance lessons, Tai Chi classes, games and activities for children, and two “fun run” courses – long and short – for people to run or walk.

Health Trainer Wayne carrying out a Health Check

The idea is for everyone to be able to take part in a healthy activity, no matter what their age, mobility or current physical activity levels.

Our services, including Health Trainers, Pregnancy Outreach Workers and Pre-Diabetes courses, work with people of all abilities and we’re keen for everyone to be able to get involved.

Getting some baby bath tips from POWS

We know that mental wellbeing is just as important as physical wellbeing, and the two are closely linked. So we wanted to make sure everyone had a chance to socialise and meet new friends, as well as taking the opportunity to get moving!

Saturday morning started off a bit damp, but the sun soon came out, turning it into a fabulous day for a picnic in the park. Gateway Health Trainers and Pregnancy Outreach Workers were on hand to give out health advice, carrying out health checks and parenting classes. Around 15 people entered our Fun Run, including Raymond (featured in the video below) who completed both the short course AND the full 5K with his Health Trainer Beckie!

Reza DanceFitness got us dancing

Steve from Painting the Rainbow did two Tai Chi sessions which were the perfect foil to the run – a relaxing work out for everyone. And Teresa from Reza Dance got people moving with some lively dance fitness sessions.

The kids had a great time doing a range of activities, from storytelling on the bandstand to giant Jenga and Connect 4 games, and some races especially for them.

Children enjoyed some games in the sunshine

And of course, the whole thing was topped off by a lovely picnic lunch. Everyone who registered got a goodie bag which included some healthy snacks and refreshments.

Thanks again to everyone who got involved, including Gateway staff and our friends at partner organisations who led the sessions and spread the word. Some of you may even spot yourselves in the video below…

See you again next year!

Get the whole family active at our Health and Wellbeing Day!

Click on the picture to download the full-size poster (PDF)

Looking for some easy ways to get happier and healthier? Join us for our free Family Health and Wellbeing Day on Saturday 1st July in Cannon Hill Park from 10am until 1pm. (Meet you by the bandstand!)

Building on the success of last year’s Community Fun Day, and the Fun Runs from previous years, the Family Health and Wellbeing Day is open to everyone and will include loads of fun activities for all the family, plus a free* picnic lunch, including healthy recipes to take away.

Physical activity will still be a big part of the day – we’ll still be holding the 5K Fun Run (or walk, if you prefer!) – but we wanted to make the day even more inclusive, so we’ll be putting on a range of health and wellbeing activities for all ages and abilities.

That includes some healthy picnic food, with free advice about healthy cooking and eating for those who want it… and the chance to meet new people. After all, we know that being sociable is really good for your mental health!

Our health teams will be on hand throughout the day to offer motivation and advice about all aspects of health and wellbeing, including one-to-one health checks and information about what other activities are available in your area.

We’d love to get you moving!

We know lots of people like to do the 5K Fun Run around the park, so there will be warm-up exercises and support from our Health Trainers for anyone who wants to give that a go this year. Perhaps you can beat your time from last year!

We also recognise that many people don’t want, or aren’t able, to do the 5k route, but we’d love to get everyone moving, even if it’s just a little bit. So there will be plenty of other opportunities to get active. You could join the beginners’ Tai Chi class, run by our friends at Painting the Rainbow, or perhaps a dance class led by Reza DanceFitness, who some of you might know through Solihull Lighten Up. (Make sure you wear suitable clothing.)

We’ll also be putting on more activities for children, as we saw how much fun they had last time. The kids really enjoyed the impromptu races last year, so we’ll make sure they get to run about even more this year with a range of races and silly games. There will also be storytelling sessions to feed the little ones’ growing imaginations and, of course, some facepainting fun.

*The Family Health and Wellbeing Day is totally free and you can turn up on the day – we’ll be by the bandstand – but if you want to receive a free picnic, you must register first by emailing your name, number of guests and any special dietary requirements to info@gatewayfs.org. You can also register by phone on 0121 456 7820, or even on Twitter by using the hashtag #GatewayFun (please ensure we send a confirmation reply, though!)

We look forward to seeing you there!

Cooking up new ideas: Solihull Lighten Up

As Solihull Lighten Up goes from strength to strength, we’ve been looking at ways we can improve the service, to help improve the health and wellbeing of more people across Solihull. So we’re pleased to announce we’re planning some exciting changes.

Bob, one of the Lighten Up Help Centre staff

Solihull Lighten Up is a weight management service offering people a package of support tailored to their needs. As well as vouchers for commercial weight loss groups, it offers a range of extra specialist help and advice, including phone support from staff at our Lighten Up Help Centre and free referrals to activity groups in the area.

For people with slightly more complex needs (including people with learning disabilities, disabled people and their carers, people with mental health issues and recent ex-smokers) Solihull Lighten Up also offers up to 12 months of one-to-one support from a Behaviour Change Advisor or Dietitian.

It’s been running since Spring 2016 and in its first year, 772 clients lost a total of 2567.6kg, or 404st 3lbs. That’s an average of over half a stone each!

Having now talked to and worked with hundreds of people and numerous partner organisations in the area, we’re now liaising with commissioners to start implementing some new ideas, based on the conversations and feedback we’ve had.

Alternatives to weight management groups

For most of the people Solihull Lighten Up supports, weight management groups like Weight Watchers and Slimming World work really well. In the first year of service delivery, we supported over 800 people to go to groups (backed up by regular phonecalls from Lighten Up Help Centre staff) and, for most of these people, membership of a group was a good way to kickstart their weight loss.

But, for some people, groups are just not a perfect fit. There might be a practical reason; perhaps meeting times clash with work, or there are insurmountable childcare issues. Or it might be something less obvious; some people just don’t feel able to make the big lifestyle and dietary changes required by a group straight away, and some need more support with physical activity.

So we’re designing our own new 12-week weight management programme, strongly influenced by feedback from the people we work with. Delivered in community venues across Solihull, it will be family-friendly, so that kids can join in, with plenty of healthy eating and physical activity sessions.

The Solihull Lighten Up team has already taken on a new Behaviour Change advisor, Kavita, to enable us to do more tailored support, and we’ll be launching the new programme soon. We hope that, by offering some carefully designed alternatives, we’ll help more people to adopt the Behaviour Change principles that we know create long-term lifestyle change.

New “slow cooker” sessions

We currently run a few different cookery sessions. Many of our staff, across all our services, have been trained as Cooking Mentors and they run sessions showing people how to cook simple healthy recipes on a budget.

The feedback has been really positive and we’ve seen a demand for more healthy cooking support, especially for people who are short on time and space at home. So – with the support of Solihull Council – we’re putting together a “slow cooker” course.

Participants will be given a slow cooker that they can plug in anywhere at home (it doesn’t even have to go in the kitchen!), together with demonstrations and a variety of easy healthy recipes. Slow cookers are associated with winter meals but we have plenty of ideas for summer dishes that we look forward to sharing too!

If you live in Solihull and you’d like to kick-start your weight loss journey with a bit of extra help, contact us to find out if you are eligible for the Solihull Lighten Up programme. Contact our Lighten Up call centre on 0800 599 9880 or via email on lighten.up@nhs.net.

Lessons learned from Pre-Diabetes referrals

The Pre-Diabetes Courses we run as part of the National Diabetes Prevention Programme have been running for over a year now. Interestingly, referrals to the course dropped (to almost unviable levels) and then rose again significantly during that time – but why? We thought we’d share some of the lessons we’ve learned about the referral process since we’ve been running the course.

During the Pre-Diabetes Course pilot period, which started in late 2015, patients came to us via a mailshot from their GP. When someone was diagnosed with Pre-Diabetes, they received a letter from their surgery, which included a leaflet from us explaining what the Gateway course offered, with contact details. If they wanted to go on the course, they called or emailed to sign up.

This worked really well. By March 2016, we’d received around 600 referrals, and had run over 30 courses, with a 92% retention rate. Feedback from patients was overwhelmingly positive. The success of our pilot, along with others, contributed to the programme being rolled out nationally.

A worrying change

However, things changed when we amended the referral process.

Under the new process, referrals came from people who had received an NHS Health Check. If a Health Check revealed Pre-Diabetes, GPs sent the patient’s details to us, and we called them on the phone to personally invite them onto the course. It sounded like a good idea.

But, despite the personal touch, the number of referrals dropped dramatically. Even worse, very few of the patients who’d agreed to go onto the course over the phone actually turned up on the day! The people who did come along were still achieving great results, so we knew the problem wasn’t with the course itself, but we were struggling to get enough people through the doors to make each course viable.

So we approached our commissioners (Birmingham South Central CCG) and worked with them to go back to mailshots. We picked up the cost of the leaflets and postage ourselves, and started working with GPs to start getting them sent out to patients again.

Back on track

Now – happily – the number of referrals is shooting up again. In just the last four weeks, we’ve run ten courses (with 15 people on each course) and more than 65 people are on the waiting list to go on a course in the next few weeks.

So why do the mailshots work so much better than a personal phonecall? We think it’s down to the following factors:

  • Awareness. Put simply, fewer people were hearing about the course. When we switched to the phone method, we were only passed the details of people who’d had a Health Check, rather than everyone who’d been diagnosed. Without leaflets, GPs were less likely to suggest the course to people, and we weren’t able to promote it as easily.
  • GPs’ authority. People take more notice of something when they hear it from their GP, so when the GPs sent our leaflet to their patients, it implied that the course was “approved”. When we contacted people ourselves – even though we were phoning people personally, telling them their GP had asked us to call, and allowing them to sign up there and then – it just didn’t hold the same weight.
  • Letting the patient lead. Perhaps counter-intuitively, requiring the patient to refer themselves turned out to be a lot more successful than phoning and asking them to sign up. Why? Well, we’ve said this before, but letting the client lead their own support is beneficial for everyone. Giving the patient the reins and allowing them to decide what action to take and when (rather than telling them what to do, and suggesting we know best) creates resilience and sustainability. In other words, those who make the decision to refer themselves to the Pre-Diabetes Course are much more likely to turn up, and much more likely to stay on track once they’ve joined.

The Gateway Pre-Diabetes Course – better than a handout!

Anyone can read about taking steps to reduce their HbA1c levels, but going on a course with other people is much more likely to make it happen.

Course attendees making healthy salsa!

The biggest difference is the social interaction. When people with similar conditions get together and start talking about their experiences, they receive extra benefits that they wouldn’t get from making changes on their own. They are happier to talk about things like weight loss and physical exercise without feeling judged, and they inspire each other.

We’ve seen people who meet on the course start their own walking groups, share healthy recipes and exercise tips, and start good habits that spread throughout whole families!

Learning is a lot more fun in a group, and the Gateway Pre-Diabetes Course includes many hands-on activities, like games and cooking sessions.

If you’ve been diagnosed with Pre-Diabetes and you’d like to take part in a Gateway Pre-Diabetes Course, call Gateway on 0121 456 7820 and ask to speak to someone from the Pre-Diabetes team.

Taking control

“Good health” can mean many things. When you hear of someone seeing a Health Trainer, you might assume they’re receiving help with diet and exercise, but that’s really only a small part of someone’s overall health.

Over the last couple of years, Gateway Health Trainers have worked with more and more people who have mental health issues. For some this is due to a diagnosed condition but for most it’s helping with anxiety, stress and just general feelings of low mood. All of which can, and do, lead to depression.

Helping someone to tackle low self-esteem, or a feeling of being overwhelmed by everyday life, can have a massive impact on their overall health. After all, making long-term changes to your activity levels or food intake are a lot more difficult when you don’t feel completely in control.

Diana’s story

Last year, Diana came to the Health Trainers service. She said:

“I want to lose weight to feel better about myself. I seem to be putting on weight each year.”

Diana was placed with Hana (pictured above), who started to get to know Diana. But Hana didn’t just want to know about Diana’s diet and activity levels. She wanted to know as much as possible about her lifestyle – all the other things that might be causing her to overeat and put on weight. As so often happens, Hana found that Diana had some other issues relating to her mental health that they needed to tackle first.

Hana said, “Diana initially said she wanted advice about comfort eating, but as we talked it through, I found that what she really wanted was to feel more organised. So that’s what we addressed first. Starting to plan her home life better would help her to feel more in control of her life, which in turn would help her eating habits.” You can hear Diana talking about this in her own words in the video, below.

We’ve written before about how looking at the “whole person” and taking into account social, economic and environmental factors saves time for GPs and saves money for the NHS. One of the wonderful things about Health Trainers is that they have the time and flexibility to do this.

Health Trainers meet people in their own home, or their local GP surgery or community centre. They have long appointments, where they get to know the person, building trust and allowing them time to talk.

Because Diana was able to work with Hana over time, unpicking some of the deeper issues, she’s been able to take control. And that means the other lifestyle changes she’s making now – like eating more healthily and becoming more active – are not just achievable, but more likely to be sustainable.