How to sell a preventative health intervention to the experts

By John Bishop, Evolve Managing Director
Presenting to a group of health experts at the Henry Wellcome Auditorium at the Wellcome Collection in London was a little daunting. If I had been talking to a group of headteachers or educationalists about health and wellbeing instead, it would have been a very different proposition. After all, I have been doing that for the past 15 years.  
However, the delegates looking at me expectantly were a very different breed altogether. These people earn a living improving health outcomes. Unlike most headteachers, whose respective livings depend upon achieving educational results, this audience could quote the increasing financial impact on the NHS of lifelong mental health illness stemming from childhood, as well as the percentage increase in obese children from reception to Year 6, differentiated by postcode.

I was following Dr Rashmi Shukla (Regional Director of Public Health, East Midlands), who spoke eloquently about the One You campaign; Amy Smullen (Senior Policy Officer for Prevention, Diabetes UK), who outlined the size of the diabetes challenge we face; and Louise Needham (Environment & Sustainability Manager, Quorn Foods), who explained what exactly mycoprotein is, along with its health and sustainability benefits.
The talk of a Quorn lunch was slightly distracting and quickly switched my focus from the extraordinary amount of data and statistics that the audience were feasting on. However, shortly afterwards I was standing at the podium and looking at the CCG chairs, directors of public health and other leading industry figures when I realised that my preparation for this presentation may have been a little naive.
What does an upstream, preventative, multifaceted, school-based intervention have to do with me?  
About an hour later I had learnt three things:

  1. To my reassuring delight, the health sector is very interested in both preventative health solutions and what happens within schools. A large percentage of questions during the panel discussion that followed my presentation focused on the role of parents, children enjoying school and the impact of positive father figures on children’s lives. (In fact, I am still following up actions with the interested and interesting contacts that I made at the event almost two weeks afterwards.) The real challenge for the health experts is how they can effectively engage with children and their parents whilst they are within school environments.
  2. Health experts know a lot about obesogenic environments, but are happy to sit still and ‘receive’ information for a two-hour long session. The energy in the room certainly lifted when I gave them the opportunity to share their thoughts about my presentation and previous ones with colleagues.
  3. For all of its benefits, I really don’t like the taste of mycoprotein.

It was nice to see much more of the conference content focused on solutions, as well as the challenges we face with preventable illnesses and conditions. In particular, the work of Dr Nicola Eccles and CP Active was very thought-provoking, with strong recommendations that health education needs to be supplemented by behavioural nudges to ensure that better lifestyle decisions are made on a regular basis. It will be really interesting to see if the impact of their work using health banners in Kirklees has the desired impact on improving the health outcomes of the local population.
I will conclude this short post with the most pleasing feedback that I received on the day from one of the kind delegates who came over to speak to me during one of the breaks.  Maybe I was not out of place there after all.
“At last! Someone who is prepared to share an idea that has an evidence base and it actually works!”