Since 2006 the NHS Health Trainer scheme has been working with the aim of supporting positive lifestyle changes in local communities.

There are busy teams of health trainers and health champions across the country reaching out to their communities to try and make a positive difference to people’s lives.

One such area is Derbyshire, where the PCT’s work has already had a positive impact on communities. Between now and 2011 the health trainer scheme is going to play an integral role in delivering priorities such as tackling health inequalities, lifestyle changes and health improvement to local and regional areas.

However, they are also facing some tough challenges. It is still very much a fledgling scheme for which there is no existing model but the signs of progress so far have been largely positive, particularly in the more deprived areas.

In order to fulfil these aims, the Derbyshire PCT recently set up an innovative training day, employing the skills of Dead Earnest, experts in Applied Theatre, to create an interactive forum piece that would examine the challenges these individuals face day in day out in their work with hard-to-reach groups. The day was attended by over 70 Health trainers, champions and coordinators and was a resounding success.

“A key aim was to enable health trainers/health champions/coordinators to understand the importance of being able to demonstrate the effectiveness of the programme and that we (PCT) need to use formalised processes to help us to do this systematically and convince the funders,” said Maureen Murfin, the programme manager.

The performances focussed on three main issues; the importance of the volunteers collecting the necessary data to make sure the project’s funders could make accurate decisions; the difficulties of setting boundaries with clients and the issues of targeting and deciding who is disadvantaged.

“We know they are doing good work but if we don’t have data on this its hard for us to get this work recognised,” continued Ms Murfin. “We have provided the systems and trained people in the use of them, but we knew we needed something to reinforce these messages and decided forum theatre could do this, but in a fun way.”

The performances, tailored by Dead Earnest specifically for Derbyshire PCT and the audience to really get underneath the issues, were followed by constructive workshops facilitated by the theatre company, in which the issues were discussed and solutions considered.

“Dead Earnest worked with us to develop scenarios that the health trainers, champions and coordinators would identify with and then presented these in a humorous way at the event,” said Ms Murfin. “This allowed us to show that we recognised their frustrations and understood them, but also allowed them to open up issues further and begin together (as a whole group) to find solutions, share good practice and help each other in getting the information needed by us. “

Dead Earnest’s work in the health field is excellent, with projects for the General Medical Council and ChaMPS among others under their belt. They do not aim to provide the answers but prefer to provoke specific discussion so the experts (the audience) can develop a solution for themselves.

From early indications it seems that the day was a success; “We know that the number of clients being recorded on the system is increasing and I feel that there is a greater commitment to capturing the data, although it is early days.  Health Trainers are a new workforce so there are particular challenges being faced in that we are tasked with establishing work practices rather than Health Trainers just doing the job ‘the same as all the other Health Trainers’”.

They certainly seem to be making good progress and, with a continued commitment to exciting and innovative training and networking methods, the future is looking good for this particular NHS initiative.