'Exciting collaboration between NHS, council and voluntary sector'

Bell View in Belford is the host for the north Northumberland locality coordinator.
Bell View in Belford is the host for the north Northumberland locality coordinator.

A project to empower communities with the goal of improving the health and wellbeing of people across Northumberland is about to start.

Led by Northumberland County Council and Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, the two-and-a-half-year project will initially see five locality coordinators embedded with voluntary and community sector (VCS) or not-for-profit organisations, one in each of the five local council areas.

Their role will be ‘to map and mobilise assets with a view to recommending approaches to improving wellbeing and health that are priorities for the communities and other stakeholders in the locality’.

Informed by their work, grants will be made available from 2019 for VCS organisations to apply for from a range of options.

At last Thursday’s meeting of the health and wellbeing board, Dr Jim Brown, a public-health consultant, described it as a ‘really exciting collaboration between the NHS, county council and the VCS’.

“We would do this even if it didn’t save money, but there’s increasing evidence that it results in health and social savings,” he added.

Dr Brown explained that the project, running from this month to April 2021, will be funded by underspend in the council’s public health grant so there are no revenue implications and it doesn’t impact frontline NHS spending.

The host organisations are: Ashington and Blyth – Northumberland Community & Voluntary Action (NCVA); Castle Morpeth – Community Action Northumberland; Cramlington, Bedlington and Seaton Delaval – Active Northumberland; North Northumberland – Bell View, in Belford; Tynedale – Hexham Community Partnership.

Four ‘experienced and enthusiastic’ locality coordinators have been recruited and are due to start this month, while the fifth post, in north Northumberland, has been re-advertised.

Coun Veronica Jones, cabinet member for health and wellbeing, said: “This project is exciting and will be a real change in how we deliver healthcare.”

However, not everyone is so positive about the project, with one county councillor previously describing the locality coordinators as ‘non-jobs’.

Coun Steven Bridgett, who has been fighting to save the ward at Rothbury Community Hospital in his division, criticised the roles when they were advertised in August.

He said that ‘judging by their advertised job descriptions, they will do very little to improve frontline healthcare provision in Northumberland, which is what our residents actually need’.

“These new roles will provide nothing more than a glorified talking shop and it is absolutely clear that the leadership at County Hall has its head in the clouds when it comes to the real frontline provision of healthcare services that our residents actually need and deserve.”

At the time, Liz Morgan, director of public health at the council, defended the roles as an effective means of improving health and wellbeing.

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service