Meeting local needs: promoting public health

In the second of a two-part series on promoting public health, CSP professional adviser Carley King looks at making the most of your resources.

The topic of the continuing professional development (CPD) article in the last edition of Frontline (5 August) focused on Making every contact count. This approach is just one way of adding value to the physiotherapy service you provide. This article follows on from that, focusing on another way of adding value – meeting your local population needs. But how do you know what the local population needs are? And what local issues can your service realistically influence? This article will take you through some options for finding out about your population and how this information could be used, including influencing your local decision-makers.

The needs of patients

Every service should be tailored to the needs of the patients. There are a number of different ways to do this, such as by gathering patient feedback and holding focus groups. In these, patients discuss what they currently receive from the service and where it might be improved. There is no magic bullet for the best way to gather this information, as the most appropriate method will differ depending on the patient group involved and what your objective is. It can be quite easy to just stick with what you are doing now, because it’s always been done that way. But really challenge this thought: how do you know that this is the best way of doing things? 
More information on gathering patient feedback is available at the NHS Improving Quality website here. 
This document isn’t particularly recent but the information is still applicable and provides a helpful summary on gathering patient feedback.

The needs of decision-makers

Information directly from patients is incredibly valuable, especially when used alongside objective data about your local population.  If you are trying to influence your local decision-makers, the first place to start is to put yourself in your local decision maker’s shoes ... what are their priorities? 
  • What kind of pressures are they under?
  • Can physiotherapy help with any of these?
  • Positioning your service as the solution is far more likely to have an impact compared to stating how many difficulties you’re currently having.  
This relates to much of what Nina Paterson wrote about in an earlier CPD article on understanding the context (6 May), and is one example of how knowing the context can help you make the case for physiotherapy.
So how do you know what the local priorities are? A good starting point is to look at your local health profile. These were a key focus of the CSP’s Physio Works events, but for those of you who weren’t able to attend, do take a look at the box (right). fl

Local health profiles

Each of the four UK countries collates and presents local health profiles slightly differently with varying levels of detail, so the best thing to do is to go to the relevant website and explore.

CPD activity: get to know your population

The activity below is aimed at all levels of physiotherapy. For the purpose of the exercise, don’t worry too much about the nuts and bolts of how you would make any changes. The focus is more on how you can use the data. Who knows, this work could form the very beginnings of a case for change!
  • As mentioned in this article, there are a number of different ways to get to know your population but a good start is to look at your local health profile to figure out your priorities (see ‘local health profiles’ left). You can also generate information internally, for example by looking at your demographics as a whole, and exploring ‘did not attend’ demographics. 
  • Look at this data to pick a priority that your service could help address or tailor your service to meet the population needs. These are two very different approaches. In the first instance, you can use the data to justify a need for additional services.For example, if there is an obesity problem in your area, you could use this to justify physiotherapy input to a weight intervention programme. On the other hand, you may wish to use the data to support a change to your service that is driven by what your population needs. For example, if there are high rates of illiteracy think of different ways to present information or gather feedback rather than written leaflets and questionnaires. 
  • Once you’ve identified a priority area, consider what you want to do about it. When you have established what you want to achieve, you will be able to decide which method would be best for getting patient views on the matter.
  • Look for examples of how other services have addressed population issues. Are there articles in Frontline of a service that’s already doing something similar to what you are planning? Or could you find further details by posting a query on iCSP? We can always learn from others, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel. 

Example from England

For members working in England, a key document that spells out your local priorities is the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA), and we would recommend you take a look at your local JSNA.

Further information 

If this has piqued your interest and you want more information on using population data to inform your service or more about the use of data generally, there is are two themes covering these topics at next month’s Physiotherapy UK event in Liverpool.
Ross Wilkie, a research fellow in epidemiology at the Research Institute for Primary Care Sciences at Keele University, whose presentation is titled ‘Population thinking for physiotherapists: the importance of epidemiology’, will build further on the information provided here. Also, Steve Tolan, head of practice at the CSP, will discuss using data for service improvement. For more information on the CSP’s major annual event event, visit
Carley King CSP professional adviser

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