Engaging young people in the NHS can lead to new ideas that benefit local hospitals, trusts and public health in unexpected ways, says David Brewer

David Brewer

David Brewer

What do young people think of their local hospital, or for that matter the wider NHS?

I spent time recently asking that very question of pupils at a local school in Stevenage. A typical response would include an uninterested shrug of the shoulders, followed by a few words such about doctors, nurses, sick people…

Lister Hospital Stevenage

‘We are building a picture of their local hospital as a place for personal development and diverse career choice’

I found it interesting that young people were so obviously unaware − and certainly uninspired − by such an obvious hub of knowledge, science, innovation, careers and the rest. Clearly image, perception and conventional wisdom were at play. I decided to reframe what the Lister Hospital in Stevenage could be about for young people, and how this could be better presented.

A few weeks later, with two colleagues (a clinical photographer and a digital media expert), I stood in front of 250 sixth formers, not quite knowing how they would react to a reintroduction to the NHS as a vibrant, complex land of opportunity that has something for everyone.

Student involvement

We decided to be interactive and have some fun, while all the time building a picture of their local hospital as a place for personal development, diverse career choice, as well as cross-curriculum and applied learning. They loved it, as did the school’s senior leadership team.

As a result, we’ve a developed a fabulous relationship with the school that provides the trust with a rich vein of new public members, eager to get involved and influence; and the school get to tap into a multifaceted resource for their pupils on their doorstep.

‘The pace and range of benefits we are realising from working with enthusiastic young people is not what we would have predicted’

In just two months, we have worked with a year 10 design and technology class (15-16 year olds) on a project that had them rebrand and redesign our membership offer to young people. The class were organised into competing teams who pitched to the East and North East Hertfordshire Trust board, Dragons Den style, “selling” their ideas for making the trust more attractive to get involved with for young people.

The board chose a winner and were delighted for the victorious designs to be produced to drive a new young member recruitment campaign. The pupils themselves will front this campaign and do the recruiting for the trust using their own work − this is true applied learning.
It was great to see the pupils rise to the challenge and present their ideas so well in what must have been a new and daunting environment. It was also fabulous to see the trust board respond so energetically and enthusiastically to the ideas presented to them.

New health champions

We are also experimenting with offering brief intervention training on a range of public health issues to sixth formers, and students ran a health awareness stall at a health action day in Stevenage.

As well as the information passed on, signposting and referrals to specialised support services to the public on the day, the wider benefits of awareness and learning through peer to peer and peer to family and friends are potentially significant − a sort of organic adaptation of the Making Every Contact Count programme.

As well as using our new young members as public health champions, we are also looking to develop some intergenerational work with schools to tackle social isolation, particularly among the elderly.

The pace and range of benefits we are realising from working with enthusiastic young people based on a careful but imaginative representation of the opportunities in the NHS is not what we would have predicted, but is certainly reaping rewards for all concerned.

David Brewer is head of engagement at East and North Hertfordshire Trust