The BBC Asian Network recently broadcast a report about a novel and effective social marketing campaign pioneered by NHS Bury.
The PCT has collaborated with the town's local Mosque Radio service to target important health messages to the South Asian community, with spectacular results.
Primary care staff can often find it difficult to reach specific communities with messages that apply especially to them.
South Asian people have particular genetic health risks, such as a higher than average incidence of diabetes. Asian women also often develop breast tumours at an earlier age than the average population and are less likely to be detected in time for early intervention. Unmanaged diabetes can have serious complications, including permanent blindness.
These are difficult health messages to get across by conventional techniques, aimed at the whole population. It's especially problematic where communities aren't traditionally used to seeking help until symptoms are already evident, or there are language or cultural barriers.
In circumstances like this, using a community's own channels can be both cheap and effective. Staff from Bury Primary Care Trust describe how they organised a screening campaign for over 50's in the muslim community, checking for the signs of visual damage connected with untreated diabetes.
The approach resulted in a 70% takeup of screening, compared with just 30% when letters are sent out in the normal way. This is attributed to offering the screening within the familiar environment of local muslim community centres, along with peer encouragement.
This is just one example of the creative, beneficial and cost saving initiatives that can arise when NHS commissioners and public health managers engage with diverse communities and work with them to address specific health inequalities.
The amazing thing is that these approaches quite often cost nothing and yet are so much more effective than firing messages indiscriminately at the whole population as though they will all react in the same way.
They're not hard; however, they do require managers to understand the diversity of their local population, have evidence of what the health inequalities are in their area, and to develop strong stakeholder relationships where ideas like this can be brainstormed.
This is the kind of best practice which I often bang on about, as the dividend that comes from applying cultural competence in areas like commissioning. As the NHS looks for ways to achieve more with less it is to be hoped that this kind of innovation will catch on. The report mentions how nearby NHS Blackburn with Darwen are aiming to copy the success of this example.
You can hear the rest of the story in this short BBC recording...