West Berkshire Council

West Berkshire Health and Wellbeing Blog

News and updates from West Berkshire Council's Public Health and Wellbeing Team

Keeping you updated on health and wellbeing issues in West Berkshire, plus health improvement services and campaigns across the council and district. 

Our Public Health and Wellbeing Team is committed to reducing local health inequalities and supporting vulnerable groups. You can contact us or visit our Public Health and Wellbeing pages for more information.



Image for Public Health blog

West Berkshire's Health and Wellbeing Board and Patient and Public Engagement Group

Written on: 26-2-2018

Health and Wellbeing Board

Health and Wellbeing Boards (HWBs) are hosted by local authorities to tackle local inequalities in health and wellbeing to ensure those most in need are supported and that people and communities become as independent and resilient as possible.

Health inequalities refer to differences in health status or in the distribution of health determinants between different groups.  For example, differences in mobility between elderly people and younger people or differences in mortality rates between people from different backgrounds.

West Berkshire's HWB includes representatives from Newbury and District Clinical Commissioning Group, North and West Reading Clinical Commissioning Group, Healthwatch West Berkshire (the patient's voice), the police, the Third Sector, elected members and representatives from West Berkshire Council such as Adult Social Care, Children and Family Services, andPublic Health and Wellbeing.

The HWB oversees the preparation of the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA) and the pdf icon Health and Wellbeing Strategy [2Mb].

Health and Wellbeing Board meetings are open to the public.  The meetings usually take place at the Market Street Council Offices, on a Thursday from 9:30am to 11am. You can ask a question at a meeting, if something interests you.

A community engagement strategy was agreed by the HWB in November 2015, with implementation delegated to a sub-group called the Patient and Public Engagement Group (PPE). The PPE's challenge is to work with the other sub-groups of the HWB (such as the Ageing Well - Falls Prevention Task Group and the Substance Misuse Harm Reduction Partnership) to ensure to ensure that engagement with and involvement of the public and service users becomes embedded in all aspects of the work of the sub-groups.

The PPE has been coordinating articles for the Newbury Weekly News touching on aspects of work that is going on in West Berkshire that has been directed by the HWB. The articles are starting to appear on this blog.



It's okay to ask people how they feel

Guest Blog: Garry Poulson, leader of the West Berkshire Suicide Prevention Action Group talks about preventing suicide in West Berkshire

Written on: 15-2-2018

In May 2017, local charity the West Berkshire Volunteer Centre established the Suicide Prevention Action Group in partnership with the West Berkshire Health and Wellbeing Board.  The key aim was to act upon the recommendations made by Darrell Gale, a consultant and director of Public Health and the author of the Berkshire-wide Suicide Prevention Strategy.  This new group, under the leadership of Garry Poulson, has brought together around 20 organisations including: I'm not as OK as I pretend to be
I'm not as OK as I pretend to be
  • The Coroners Courts
  • A retired GP
  • NWN editor, Andy Murrill
  • WBC Highways
  • MP Richard Benyon
  • Public Health officers

The key aim of the group is to bring about practical solutions that might prevent suicide and to raise awareness of organisations within West Berkshire that are there to support people who may have been affected by a suicide.

Watch a report from Thames Valley TV explaining the purpose and aims of the West Berkshire Suicide Prevention Action Group.

The profound and shocking event of a suicide of a close relative, spouse, friend or colleague is among the greatest emotional trauma that a human could suffer.

The effects of a suicide among us are long-lasting and leave many unanswered questions for those left behind or a severe emotional trauma for those that may have been unwittingly implicated as witnesses to such an event. What could we have done? What did we miss? If only I had listened to them. If only they had told me how they were feeling. These are the rational questions that may arise after the event.

If you are an employer, do you have a policy at work to support people who are coping with stress and anxiety? Is there a well-being element to work place appraisals or opportunities for staff to discuss workplace stresses?

Research shows that people are afraid of raising the subject of suicide with someone who may have said that they had thoughts of 'ending it all'. Rationality, along with a loss of perspective, usually departs those people who are thinking about taking their own life. People who want to take their own life don't want to die, which may sound odd, but actually people want their circumstances to change and in their moment of irrationality they feel that the only way to change their life is to end it.

It is okay to talk to people about how they are feeling. It is okay to ask people if they are considering taking their own life. It is okay to ask if they are thinking about taking their own life and have they planned it. These questions do not raise the idea of suicide in the mind of the person who is suffering, rather they raise an opportunity for them to talk about their current circumstances and why they may be having suicidal thoughts.

A common reaction to this may be, 'Good god no, I'm not that bad and I wouldn't want to do that to my family'. This is good because at least you will know that their life may not be in danger. If their answer is that they are thinking about taking their life, it may then prompt further questions about what their circumstances are, and what you - as a family member, friend, colleague or employer - may be able to do to alleviate some of the stresses in their life.

People's struggles may be due to personal relationships, deep financial worries, workplace stress, poor mental health or a combination of all of these things. We can all ask questions or make suggestions such as, 'Have you thought of making an appointment with Citizens Advice West Berkshire who are trained to advise and guide people with a myriad of personal problems'.

If their anxieties are around relationships, then organisations such as Relate, based in Newbury and available 24/7, are available and for younger people in West Berkshire we have an organisation called Time to Talk that specialises in listening to young people.

It is incumbent upon employers to take time to talk to staff if, for example, they have displayed different behaviours from the norm. Asking them how things are at home may reveal areas of severe stress that an employer could take into account. It may be that a partner has left the household with children. Perhaps the family home is about to be repossessed due to catastrophic debt problems. 

Employers can help in a number of ways. Perhaps by discussing options with staff, perhaps guide them to expert services, maybe time off to help solve their problems. Overtime may help with money worries or perhaps an employer could fast track them to an in house counselling service and, of course, ensuring that their employee goes to see their family doctor who will be able to refer to expert services within the NHS, such as Talking Therapies and others. 

In October 2017, the Suicide Prevention Action Group invited West Berkshire businesses to attend its first free suicide prevention training morning called 'Start The Conversation'. Experts from the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust and the Berkshire Health Foundation Trust (BHFT) delivered a session, giving employers practical messages about how to spot the signs of stress and anxiety in the workplace which could, in some circumstances, lead someone to have suicidal thoughts. 

The 50 employers represented 11,500 employees in West Berkshire. It is the group's intention to deliver two more sessions in 2018. The dates and venues for this free training will be published in the next few weeks.  If you are an employer or person responsible for staff, training or have an HR function and would like to attend one of the forthcoming training mornings, then please email garry@vcwb.org.uk.

If you, or someone you know, is seeking help and advice, here is a small selection of the resources that are available in West Berkshire. These organisations will be able to assist and or direct you to organisations who are able to help.

On Thursday 29 March from 9:30am to 4:30pm, there will be an open day organised by Volunteer Centre West Berkshire, in partnership with the Health and Wellbeing Board, at Newbury Racecourse, promoting West Berkshire voluntary and community sector organisations and the work they do.  It is a free event open to anyone wanting to meet charities, work with them, volunteer with them or use the services they provide. 

Building a Social Network to Improve Health and Wellbeing

Written on: 7-2-2018

Five Ways to Wellbeing words

A surprising number of health benefits come from simply staying in touch with other people and feeling part of a community or social network. Indeed, loneliness and social isolation are actually damaging to our health; social groups and friendships not only have an impact on reducing the risk of developing certain illnesses but can help people to recover if they do fall ill.

It's something that can affect people from all age groups, backgrounds and ethnicities, but is a particular problem for the older members of our communities, especially those who live in rural areas, as they become less able to get out and about to enjoy interests and contact with other people.

Locally we have a fantastic scheme set up to help tackle the problem, Befriend West Berkshire run by Volunteer West Berkshire that will help people from the area who are socially isolated and are over 50 years old. Individuals can refer themselves, or be referred by a third party, such as a friend, family member, medical professional, voluntary organisation or social services.

One befriender said, "I have learnt a lot since becoming a befriender. It has taught me how precious life is, to be more patient, to appreciate the simple things in life and I now know more about the Greek Philosophers! We share many valuable experiences and long may they continue."

The son of a person who has had a befriender said, "Having contact outside the family adds so much value to his life, he clearly smiles every time he mentions it."

Each befriender connection will be unique, but just like a friend, you will take the time to pop in regularly for a friendly chat. The activities you share could grow as the support develops, such as occasional outings. You will be trained and fully supported throughout the period of your volunteer befriending. It's an ideal opportunity for good listeners with empathy, patience and a friendly nature. The time commitment can be flexible to suit you, your lifestyle and commitments and the reward is the knowledge you have really made a difference.

Transport problem?

Access to services, access to social activities and access to information are key to tackling the problem of social isolation but can be difficult to achieve when public transport is infrequent, if it exists at all. We are lucky in West Berkshire to have a network of 10 volunteer-led car schemes, each providing low cost help for people who are unable to use public transport to get to appointments of all kinds. Each of the schemes uses local volunteer drivers who know the area and want to help their own community.

There are car schemes in Lambourn, Hungerford, Kintbury, Newbury, Thatcham, The Downlands, Chapel Row, Theale, Pangbourne and Burghfield.

Village Agent Scheme

Village Agents are trained to visit people who may have a range of minor problems that together are making it difficult for them to thrive. Funded by West Berkshire Council and operated by Volunteer Centre West Berkshire, the scheme aims to put specially trained volunteers in touch with people who might be struggling due to infirmity or a change in their circumstances.

The Village Agent visits the client in their home and use their knowledge of services in the local area to help with a range of difficulties or problems.  Agents don't cold call and only ever act on a referral with the agreement of the client.

If you are interested in befriending, car schemes, Village Agents or other volunteering, please visit Volunteer Centre West Berkshire or call 01635 49004.


Suicide Prevention

Written on: 7-2-2018

Suicide prevention is everybody's business

Suicide is a devastating event. It is an individual tragedy, a life-altering crisis for those bereaved, and a traumatic event for communities and services. The impacts are immediately and profoundly distressing. For every person who dies by suicide at least 10 people are directly affected. The social and economic cost of a suicide is substantial. The average cost of suicide in someone of working age in England is estimated to be £1.67 million. The highest suicide rate in the UK in 2015 was among men aged 45 to 59, at 22.3 deaths per 100,000, slightly lower than the record high seen in 2013. This age group also had the highest rate among women, at 7.3 deaths per 100,000 population.

The suicide audit undertaken in Berkshire from 2012 to 2014, recorded 120 deaths, 70 percent of these were classified as suicide by the coroner and the other 30 percent were undetermined deaths or open verdicts. Suicide is preventable and we want to work together to reduce these numbers and support families affected.

The NHS Five Year Forward View for Mental Health (2016) sets a target on all NHS agencies and partners to reduce the current level of suicide by 10 percent by 2020. Ultimately, zero suicide should be our aim; as it is in the gift of the combined efforts of these organisations, and of society at large, to put in place the policies and services which protect people from mental distress, and to ease the factors which cause that distress. The Berkshire Suicide Prevention Strategy 2017-2021 forges ahead with an ambition to reduce suicide by at least 25 percent by 2020, thus ensuring that this becomes a shared priority across Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) and local authorities in Berkshire, creating an alliance of stakeholders that takes preventive and ongoing action covering the main risks to suicide.

In West Berkshire, a local Suicide Action Group has been set up and is regularly attended by a range of organisations who are keen to make progress on the actions contained within the West Berkshire suicide prevention action plan, which outlines what can be done to target high-risk locations and to support high-risk groups.

Suicide has a huge affect on the people left behind who can find it difficult to talk about what has happened and feel of guilty and isolated. They are also vulnerable to thoughts of suicide. Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (SOBS) is the only national charity that works to meet the needs of adults bereaved by suicide. The Newbury Survivors of Suicide support group meets the second Wednesday of every month and provides a safe place for people to share their experiences and feelings and give and receive support from other members of the group. 

You can also order three booklets from the Public Health and Wellbeing Team:

  • How to Support Someone Who is Suicidal
  • How to Cope With Suicidal Feelings
  • Help is at Hand

Please contact the Public Health and Wellbeing Team if you would like a copy.

31st January 2018 - the last night of Dry January!

Councillor Lynne Doherty, Executive Member for Children, Education and Young People, gives her reflections on participating in Dry January.

Written on: 1-2-2018

Cllr Doherty 2

As I sit here and reflect on my alcohol free month many thoughts run through my mind.

First and foremost is the thought of a lovely chilled glass of Sauvignon Blanc waiting for me tomorrow evening. That may sound like I have a problem with alcohol and I would say that this month of abstinence has certainly made me reflect on my relationship with it.

Alcohol is my reward at the end of a demanding day, a chance to sit, sip and relax. I found in the first week or two without, I replaced alcohol with chocolate - so much for Dry January helping you to shed the pounds of Christmas excess! I have now managed to 'break the habit' and I believe that is something I will take forward with me as I embark on a new relationship with alcohol in the coming months.

Others claim the benefit of better sleep as a result of being alcohol free, but sorry to those insomniacs out there, I am fortunate and have always been a very sound sleeper. So no difference noticed there. More energy? Yes, I am certainly getting more done in the evenings when I find my concentration levels are still high and I'm ready to think productively. Clearer skin? No real difference noticed. More money? Yes, my very handy 'App' for Dry January estimates I have saved £270 this month, and on that basis I have rewarded myself with a new top today.

One of the most interesting areas I have noticed this dry month is other people and their attitude to me not drinking. Some have been very supportive, while others have tried to lure me to have the odd sip -'come on, we wont tell'! It was my husband's birthday this month and I did feel guilty in not joining him in a drink to celebrate. The biggest challenge came when I went on 2 days residential training. Networking and getting to know people was done over a few evening drinks, it was a very unusual experience for me to be first to bed and clear headed in the morning. I can honestly say I enjoyed the evenings just as much and really felt the benefit of being fresh the next day when some of my colleagues were looking a little grey.

Would I do it again? No, well not in such a strict format. I think moderation is the key going forward. So, yes cut back in January, but if there is the odd occasion that deems a drink appropriate then don't be so harsh on yourself. I would also advocate that 2-3 'dry days' each week are good and then the need for a Dry January becomes less important. I'm saying this as someone who would describe themselves as a moderate drinker, so appreciate this approach may not work for everyone.

Am I pleased I did it? Most definitely. I feel very proud of myself to know that I have stuck with my resolve and not been tempted. I feel it has given me an opportunity to appreciate that I don't have to have a drink to have a good time. I would argue that each social occasion I have embarked on has been just as much fun without alcohol. I have definitely appreciated the 'next day feeling' of being drink free.

So here I am on the last night of my challenge writing my thoughts and still thinking of the large glass of white that awaits me tomorrow - Cheers!

Who To Contact

Contact details for West Berkshire's Public Health and Wellbeing Team

01635 519973