Community partnership provides lifeline against alcohol and substance misuse

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THE manager of Northern Ireland’s drug and alcohol awareness programme, Breakthru, joined the Health Minister Edwin Poots to promote the benefits of a community development approach to promoting health and wellbeing.

Bernadette Mc Hugh, who has been Breakthru’s manager for three years, addressed the Pharmacy Management National Seminar for Northern Ireland, at Belfast’s Riddel Hall on Wednesday, October 3, and outlined how vital it is for pharmacists in the province to use their expertise and considerable skills to work with community organisations to tackle health inequalities and promote positive health.

Breakthru, which is funded by the Building the Community Pharmacy Partnership, (BCPP) a partnership between Community Development and Health Network and the Pharmacy Branch of the Health and Social Care Board, promotes a joined up approach as the best practice to end health inequalities and to empower communities to use innovative programmes to address identified issues.

Speaking to an audience of policymakers, hospital bosses, pharmaceutical companies, community pharmacists, members of the Health and Social Care Boards, leading academics and healthcare directors, Mrs Mc Hugh said a community development approach has helped Breakthru target specific groups who we have identified as needing additional information and support to maintain health and wellbeing, including vulnerable women and older people.

Mrs Mc Hugh said: “Through BCPP, we realised that a partnership with the pharmacist, using a community development approach, would enable us to target such groups, enhancing their understanding of health by utilizing the considerable skills and services of the community pharmacist along with the skills and expertise of the staff of Breakthru.”

Mrs Mc Hugh said the community approach has also identified the need to help older people.

She said: “There are many issues which could impact on the health and wellbeing of older people including social isolation. Many older people live in rural areas and even within the towns and villages across Northern Ireland, there is poor public transport in some areas.

“Not only that, but a change in life status, ageing retirement, widowhood or ill health can also lead to a loss of self esteem and isolation.

“At Breakthru, we are acutely aware of poor mental health among the older population which constitutes one in eight of all suicides in Northern Ireland, for people aged 60 plus. The highest suicide rates are among women aged 45-54-years-old.

Mrs Mc Hugh said it’s essential that a community development approach is maintained to help people develop their own skills and knowledge so they can enhance their own health and well being.

Topics examined for women through information sessions, group work, creative workshops and one to one support have included depression and anxiety disorders, panic attacks, sleep and sleep disorders, over the counter medicines and their potential misuse alongside sessions exploring art therapy, yoga, relaxation techniques.

A focus for older people has included physical health with topics such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, foot care. Practical issues such as personal safety, home security and fire safety have also been examined.

Mrs Mc Hugh said the community development work has been vital in helping people change their lives.

She said: “Participants report very positive benefits with improvements in psychological wellbeing, increased visits to the pharmacists and general improvement in health and wellbeing. One programme, for example, with a woman’s group, over three quarters of them indicated poor psychological wellbeing but at the end this had reduced to under 20 per cent.

“Breakthru has worked with five pharmacists over the course of our projects. We have been extremely fortunate to have committed hard working colleagues who believe in the value of the partnership for the community and for their own personal and professional development. According to the pharmacists, their involvement has changed how they interact with their patients. It has given them a greater understanding of the health and life issues behind the prescriptions. They have also gained very useful insight into the local community and the support services available locally many of which they now signpost to.”

Mrs Mc Hugh thanked BCPP for their funding which has enabled such programmes to be carried out and said Breakthru hopes to continue having such a close partnership with pharmacists in the future.