Why is focusing on young people’s health important? NHS Youth Forum & Kath Evans
Young People are on an exciting part of their life journey with diverse physical, emotional and intellectual changes happening on a daily basis, all of which influence their health and wellbeing. As a critical part of society young people are generally thought to be healthy and attention is often placed on older populations who have current acute health needs that require immediate attention rather than the longer term perspective that’s needed, yet greater focus of young people’s health will lead to efficiencies in the longer term. When tough commissioning conversations are being held we need to be able to clearly articulate WHY it’s so important to focus on young people’s health and who better to ask than young people themselves.
The NHS Youth Forum reflect….
- ‘Our health is just one part of lives, our home environments need consideration, when stress happens here this has an impact on our health.’
- ‘We spend so much time in school and there are significant exam pressures that can be really toxic for our physical and emotional health, its essential health and education work together.’
- ‘Our interactions with society as we experiment in different ways are sometimes negative, involvement with gangs, cyberbullying, these things and others can lead to a wide range of harmful behaviours including smoking, harmful alcohol use, drug use, risky sexual behaviour, violence and crime.’
- ‘Accidents in our teenage years can have a range of consequences both physical and emotional, that change our life course, preventing these is important.’
- ‘Our teenage years are a time of experimentation, professionals who educate, raise awareness, in a positive and engaging way will have the greatest impact on the choices we make so that we understand the consequences of our actions in the present and in the future too’.
- ‘As a young person the current state of our health can limit our opportunities, a young person with long term complex health needs for example can often end up missing school and these gaps in education can have a big impact on future employment, good services recognise this and offer flexible care’
- ‘Diseases such as diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease can either be prevented or accelerated in teenage years.’
- ‘Addressing health at an early age prevents bigger and often costly health care needs occurring in the future and equipping young people to ‘self-care’ and effectively navigate the health care system will lead to better use of services. Normalising healthy behaviours such as exercise and making healthy food choices are life skills we need help to focus on.’
- ‘As well as the personal impact of health on our lives, of interest to commissioners is that our health affects our ability to work throughout our adult years and therefore in the years ahead. Ultimately ill health or early death will cause loss of income to the country’.
- ‘Healthcare professionals should understand how scary it can be for a young person to speak out and access services, if services aren’t sharing information about what they can offer and don’t welcome young people problems can escalate.’
- ‘When positive interactions occur as a young person I’m much more likely to re-attend and speak up when I have a health concern. Having confidence that health care professionals are interested in what matters to me makes a difference and changes outcomes not only in the present but in the future too.’
- ‘Health services need us as young people to apply for jobs, inspiring us by sharing the variety of career pathways that exist means that the current healthcare teams will have people to care for them when they retire.’
As adults we often think we know why health and the services we offer is important, what’s vital is that we step back and ask young people themselves, when we do we get rich, insightful perspectives that we won’t necessarily have thought of. When we seek out these perspectives we can then design care together at an individual and strategic level.
Perhaps our greatest challenge as health care professionals is being open to what young people have to say and shifting from a paternalistic perspective of ‘adults know best’.
So our call to action, from the NHS Youth Forum ‘Focusing on young people’s health is not only the right thing to do it’s wisest thing to do, let’s get on with it!’
The NHS Youth Forum is a group of 25 diverse young people from all over England. They meet throughout the year to work on their chosen priorities. The forum members are directly linked to thousands of other young people, through a wide range of networks, including very active twitter #NHSYF and facebook channels.
Information about the NHS Youth Forum can be found on both the NHS England and British Youth Council’s website
Kath Evans is a Children’s Nurse who works at NHS England and leads on improving experiences of care in maternity, baby, children and young people’s services. You can tweet her