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It’s time to let young people customise healthcare!

Caffeine and contemplation

Dominique Thompson

Monday, 01 April 2019

AdobeStock_120489486_ddblog.jpgI am constantly amazed and impressed (and slightly scared if I’m honest) about how young people customise every bit of tech and online content they touch, even dry old Google Docs, which has recently emerged as the ‘hot’ new messaging app in the classroom, when pupils are supposed to be working, and can’t access their phones. They have found a workaround, and are using the documents’ various features to organise their social lives.

When I read about a school in Cornwall recently that has an integrated health centre on site, it made sense, not only to ease access for a vulnerable population to vital and confidential health services, but also because they let the ‘kids’ participate in the design, which ensured success and ownership of the project.

We need young people to customise health care and make it better!

I don’t doubt that in the future more NHS health services will work closely with schools, starting with education and preventive approaches as health teams enter the classroom, and moving onto ‘bricks and mortar’ developments, a 21st century version of the ‘San’ or school nurse’s office, with dedicated specialist professionals and NHS mental health teams working in site, alongside school staff. This integrated approach seems so obvious, and yet painfully slow to take hold, but it may be one of the best ways for the UK to address the rising demand for young people’s mental health support and services - by tackling it at its root.

There will as always be questions about finance and workforce issues, but it seems that addressing children and young people’s health in their schools, where they spend so much of their time, is an obvious way to be efficient with what few resources we have.

Part of my work has always been going into schools and giving talks, about puberty to 11 year olds (reliably entertaining) and about self-care and life after school to 6th formers. I love the time I spend with these animated, funny, engaged and creative young people and can only imagine how much they might enjoy being asked to get involved with designing their healthcare and the services provided to them. There would certainly be some ‘Thinking Differently’ the NHS strategists love so much! Top it off with a pharmacy and we might start to make some real inroads beyond the progress we have already made on reducing teenage pregnancy, smoking and alcohol consumption, as well as giving a clear lifelong message about how important health and self-care are for wellbeing.

Wouldn’t it be great if the NHS (CCGs, trusts and senior leadership) asked young people what they want from their health care, where they would like it provided to them, and how we could make things better and easier for them? We need to hear more from the young people involved in the school project in Budehaven, Cornwall and their peers in Cumbria who set up ‘We Will’ mental health support network.

They are, unquestionably and in every sense, the future of healthcare and the NHS!

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Dominique Thompson

Dominique has been a student health GP since 2000, developing innovative new services to treat eating disorders and personality disorder in primary care. She was the GP member of the NICE Eating Disorders Committee 2017. She was a Pulse ‘GP hero’, in 2014, and a ‘Rising Star’ in 2016. Dominique writes about young adult wellbeing and mental health, in both the medical and non-medical press. Her latest adventure is as an independent consultant in student health and wellbeing www.buzzconsulting.co.uk. She is fuelled by caffeinated drinks.
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