Community health and wellbeing workers: a solution for improving health and care in England

In the quest to refine healthcare delivery in England, this innovative approach, inspired by Brazil’s successful community healthcare model, is a promising solution to the challenges faced by the NHS. The strategy focuses on the deployment of Community Health and Wellbeing Workers (CHWWs) to foster more efficient, localised healthcare services. Our recent article in the British Journal of General Practice┬ádiscusses the potential of this model and how it could revolutionise healthcare in communities across England.

The Inspiration from Brazil

Brazil’s community healthcare model stands as a testament to the power of grassroots health initiatives. Over the past two decades, this approach has led to significant improvements in health outcomes, including reductions in cardiovascular mortality, hospital admissions, and health inequalities. The core of Brazil’s success lies in the integration of CHWWs into the healthcare system. These workers serve as pivotal links between GPs, community services, local authorities, and the communities they serve, especially in marginalized areas.

Pilot Program in Westminster

A pilot program in Westminster tested the feasibility of this model in England. The results were promising, showing increased vaccination and screening rates, along with a 7% drop in unscheduled GP visits in the first year alone. This indicates that CHWWs not only meet the existing demand for healthcare services but also successfully reach those in need of care who might not seek it out.

Addressing the Workforce Crisis

Beyond improving healthcare delivery, training and employing CHWWs offer a strategic solution to the current NHS workforce crisis. By upskilling volunteers and providing them with pathways to employment within the NHS, this initiative could significantly alleviate workforce shortages. Moreover, the role of a CHWW, demanding cultural competence, a non-judgmental attitude, and strong problem-solving skills, represents an attractive career opportunity for individuals passionate about community service.

Potential Impact in England

The adaptation of Brazil’s community health worker model to the English context could yield even greater benefits due to the wider availability of services. Acting as catalysts between healthcare, social care, and public health, CHWWs could play a crucial role in improving population health status and outcomes. The initial successes observed in Westminster suggest that a nationwide deployment of CHWWs could lead to considerable savings within public health, social care, and NHS budgets, alongside notable improvements in public health.

Funding and Support

For the CHWW initiative to be sustainable, securing long-term and reliable funding is essential. Proposals suggest adding to the fixed part of the Public Health Grant as a viable funding source. This approach aligns with the broader goal of creating an English family health strategy, which is both a feasible and cost-effective solution to current healthcare challenges.

Conclusion

The introduction of Community Health and Wellbeing Workers in England represents a forward-thinking solution to improving healthcare accessibility and efficiency. Inspired by Brazil’s model, this approach offers a holistic and integrated strategy to address the pressing challenges of the NHS, including strained budgets, workforce shortages, and the need for improved public health outcomes. With appropriate funding, support, and expansion across the country, CHWWs have the potential to significantly enhance the healthcare landscape in England, making it more responsive to the needs of its diverse populations.