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Friday 30 September 2016
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Opening access to preventative healthcare at work

The Occupational Health & Safety Unit at Sandwell, together with the Healthy Heart Institute, will be running a mobile screening unit tomorrow and Thursday (14–15 March) to measure blood pressure, obesity, cholesterol and glucose levels to individuals within the workplace.

Sandwell, in the West Midlands, typifies the ethnically diverse and economically deprived innercity areas that suffer disproportionately from the two main causes of premature death in the UK: cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

The extent of this population's vulnerability and the practical difficulties they faced in accessing mainstream health education and treatment became apparent to Geraldine Thomas while working with small local companies to create a Business Improvement District (BID) at Sandwell in West Bromwich.

On hearing of this unmet need, Marie Carroll, deputy manager at Workwell (the Occupational Health & Safety Unit of Sandwell Healthcare NHS Trust) approached Dr Jeetesh V Patel, a research scientist at the Trust, who is also executive director of the Healthy Hearts Institute, a local social enterprise initiative promoting preventative healthcare to such disadvantaged groups.

Together with the Institute's medical director, Dr Elizabeth Hughes, Dr Patel has organised two physicians, multilingual interpreters and a team of nurses to run a mobile screening unit on the Albion Road industrial estate on these two dates, using Healthy Heart's tailored approach to CVD risk screening that includes measuring blood pressure, obesity, cholesterol and glucose levels and explaining the results to the individuals. The Healthy Hearts team will also offer healthcare advice in private consultations, giving everyone attending a goody bag containing a pedometer, hand warmer, stress ball and health information.

Prior publicity of the screening programme to the 1,600-strong local workforce in the BID area has generated an unexpectedly strong response, even attracting interest from members of public who had seen the posters while visiting the businesses concerned.

"We used a 'Carry on' theme because we wanted to create materials that were friendly, fun and unthreatening," said Geraldine Thomas. "We went into every company on the estate, and every single one responded positively."

"Finding new ways to improve awareness of risk factors is especially valuable in areas like Sandwell," observed Dr Hughes, "not only because of the high proportion of workers of South Asian origin (who are several times more likely to develop diabetes than the population as a whole), but also because of the high average age of what is after all a socially essential workforce."

For Marie Carroll, "this programme has been a great way to connect with hard to reach groups such as older men in manufacturing near their place of work. It shows how partnership working between local businesses and health organisations can help to improve health."

"Given that Sandwell is a black spot for heart disease and stroke, many residents are sitting ducks for these afflictions," reflected Jeetesh Patel. "And we hope that this initiative will help to change attitudes among people who are rarely if ever exposed to health promotion. If this pilot scheme proves as effective as we expect it to be, there's no reason why it can't be replicated with workers in other communities who are similarly excluded from mainstream provision."

Having already attracted broadcast coverage through the BBC and grant funding from Solvay Healthcare, this novel partnership looks set to extend the influence and community benefits of the Healthy Heart project.