Interview with Eugenia Cronin, Head of Healthier Communities, London Borough of Greenwich
Health is seen as everyone's business in Greenwich with the council and primary care trust (PCT) aiming to work as a “double act”, says Eugenia Cronin, Head of Healthier Communities. She says that one of the keys to strong partnership working in the London borough is recognising that public health is not just the preserve of the NHS.
“The council is very well placed and, as the Government's Health White Paper, 'Choosing health' points out, should be at the centre of health improvement. It oversees education, employment, adult and children's services and the economy. All of these things are key determinants of health.”
She adds that the leadership of the council is important to this recognition and understands the link between economic regeneration and people's health. This commitment has helped to strengthen the council's involvement as did the “knowledge and passion” of the staff who have worked around Greenwich for many years.
In 2003 the council undertook a best value review of its role in public health. This led to it taking the unusual step of appointing its own senior public health practitioner - the role of head of healthier communities. Cronin says the leaders of the council realised they needed someone internally to both drive its own agenda as well as drive the joint work with the PCT.
She says it was important for the council to have this independent post and while there may be a joint senior role in the future, a health focus in all its policies from urban planning to strategic needs assessments for social services, is essential for the health of the population.
While local circumstances have helped to drive successful partnership work she concedes that the different cultures of local government and of the NHS could hinder progress. Generally speaking, there are differences in performance and accountability arrangements, so it is important to take deliberate steps to better understand each other.
In 2001 a local improving health and cutting inequalities partnership was established. Although this was before Cronin joined the council, she says this had the “right members” to make a difference including the head of regeneration, senior personnel from housing and children's services, the Greenwich Community Network and the director of public health at the primary care trust. This has formed the basis of the partnership today and there are services and projects that could never have been achieved without working together.
Smoking cessation initiative at Charlton Athletic Football Club
Cronin points to a smoking cessation initiative based at Charlton Athletic Football Club. Residents in target communities are invited to join quit sessions held at the Valley, and encouraged to quit through a model that uses mutual support and inspiration from high profile current and ex-players. Steering group membership of the council, PCT and Charlton Athletic Community Trust has been instrumental in the project's success.
“We couldn't have got this project off the ground without partnership. The council had the Neighbourhood Renewal funding, and facilitated the project, while the club and PCT bought staff, expertise and resources.”
The project has already led to higher cessation rates than normally achieved through NHS only schemes.
She says that partnerships such as this one overcome challenges such as funding constraints by "putting cards on the table".
“We take time to understand each other's positions so tend not to have fraught discussions about resources, but there's no hard or fast approach, it's all down to negotiation.”
Cronin says it's important not to stand still. The main partnership body continues to evolve, with the development of a joint vision and a new health and wellbeing board in the pipeline.
17 October 2007