Tag Archives: public health

Dear Lyn Brown MP

1 Sep

Guest post by Caroline Tomes

Dear Lyn Brown MP,

Your role as an MP is to represent the views and concerns of your constituents, both those who did and did not vote for you. There are many ways to obtain this information, and I for one am glad to see my local MP engaging with Twitter and other social media.

One of the challenges is in assessing whether information you obtain is representative of your constituents.  The old saying “garbage in, garbage out” is a useful reminder about the importance of survey design. And I have some very real concerns regarding the surveys you have hosted recently on your website. 

You had a survey online asking for local views on healthcare. This was the first question:
Lyn survey pic1
Now there is nothing wrong with asking for people’s general opinions of health services (although I do wonder why you feel the need to repeat the work which Healthwatch Newham aptly do). However the response options are limited to ‘excellent’ ‘good’ or ‘satisfactory’, thereby preventing any negative feedback. This is ridiculously biased, and any results from this question will be inevitably skewed.

Do you not care if someone is ‘unsatisfied’ with their healthcare?

After I highlighted the poor question design you claimed something had gone wrong with the website ‘download’ (although the source code suggested the issue was with the survey design rather than things not being displayed). Either way, I was glad to see the healthcare survey taken off your website and hope you’ve deleted any data from this flawed survey.

However that wasn’t the only biased survey on your website. Your local business survey on the Olympics includes the following question:

Lyn survey pic2
Now where do I start?

Survey design faux-pas #1: leading questions; suggesting the Olympic Games had a positive impact.

Survey design faux-pas #2: the scale is biased and it also doesn’t make sense.

It’s just a terribly written question. For example: what would you select if you felt the Olympics had a big negative impact? What is the difference between impact two, four or six? I’m not sure what responses you’ve had to this survey, but I’m very confident that you won’t be able to use this information in any meaningful way.

I enjoy being a Newham resident. I’ve encountered many friendly local people, and the diversity of ethnicities and cultures makes Newham an exciting and vibrant place to be. That said; not everything is perfect here. For starters, Newham is currently the most deprived borough in London*, the TB capital of Europe, and I do wish there were more bins / fewer chicken bones in the local parks where I walk my dog.

I’m also pretty concerned that 100% of Newham’s elected representatives belong to the Labour party. Not because I necessarily disagree with that party politics but I strongly beleive that a one-party dominant system is just not healthy. Which is why it is so very important that any local surveys you conduct are unbiased and are representative of Newham people. 

With the forthcoming general election next year, I’m going to need a lot more convincing that you care about the real views of local people to get my vote.
Yours sincerely,
Caroline Tomes is a PhD researcher at UCL, public health professional and Newham resident. You can follow her on Twitter @carotomes

*Correction: originally published as ‘most deprived ward in London’. Edited to amend ward to borough.

Making public health matter

25 Feb


According to Public Health England the health of people in Newham is “varied compared with the England average”. Which is a polite way of saying it’s mostly worse. Specifically:

  • Deprivation is higher than average and about 24,000 children live in poverty.
  • Life expectancy for both men and women is lower than the England average.
  • Within the borough, life expectancy is 5.0 years lower for men and 5.5 years lower for women in the most deprived areas than in the least deprived areas.
  • Over the last 10 years, early death rates from cancer and from heart disease and stroke have fallen, but the latter remains worse than the England average.
  • In Year 6, 25.6% of children are classified as obese, worse than the average for England.
  • Rates of sexually transmitted infections, smoking related deaths and hospital stays for alcohol related harm are worse than the England average.
  • The estimated level of adult physical activity is worse than the England average.

But on the positive side:

  • Levels of GCSE attainment, alcohol-specific hospital stays among those under 18, breast feeding and smoking in pregnancy are better than the England average.
  • The estimated level of adult ‘healthy eating’ is (surprisingly) better than the England average.
  • The rate of road injuries and deaths is better than the England average.

Public Health England identified the priorities in Newham as: tackling heart disease and stroke; immunisation; maternity and early years care; cancer; circulatory diseases; and long term conditions.

The Health and Social Care Act of 2012, which heralded the current unnecessary and damaging reorganisation of the NHS, also transferred responsibility for local health improvement to local authorities, including Newham. The transfer ctually took place on 1 April 2013, some nine months after the Act received Royal Assent.

So Sir Robin had a bit of time to think about how he might approach this and to include a bit about public health in his ‘Mayor’s Contract’. After all, what could be more important to improving the lives of Newham people than making them healthier?

Can you guess how many times does the word ‘health’ appears in the Mayor’s Contract 2013/14? Zero. Not even once.

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised. Improving health is hard work, it takes a long time and it’s really difficult to move the needle even a little. Most of the evidence of success will come years down the line, long after Sir Robin has moved on to City Hall or the House of Lords. And it’s not the kind of work that lends itself to photo opportunities.

But it is vitally important. In May Sir Robin is asking for another 4 years in power. His councillors and those who aspire to join them are already out on the doorstep, pushing leaflets through letterboxes and talking to voters. We must take this opportunity – it won’t come again for another 4 years – to push public health onto the agenda. Ask the canvassers what the Mayor’s proposals are, what he (and they) are going to do make Newham a healthier place.

And if Sir Robin deigns to hold a public meeting or two, turn up and ask him directly.