Pathfinder Healthcare

Posted by editor 07/05/2013 0 Comment 3065 views


Why a groundbreaking healthcare social enterprise in the West Midlands could hold the key for the future of the NHS

“Honestly, I wouldn’t do this job if it wasn’t so inspiring. Everyone that works here is so passionate and the community really appreciates what we do,” says Shazma Bi, a 31-year-old mum of three and volunteer at unique healthcare service Pathfinder Healthcare Developments in Smethick, West Midlands. Be warned, behind the rather ordinary name you’ll find an extraordinary set-up.

The evangelism of people’s reactions to the work of Pathfinder (PHD) is in lots of ways completely understandable: they are – very effectively  – helping people live healthier lives.

Yet what is remarkable is the structure and the ambition. Set up as a trading social enterprise by a group of GPs led by Dr Niti Pall in one of Britain’s most ethnically diverse and disadvantaged areas, PHD has sought to completely redesign the way patients interact with their services to create a modern, efficient, and replicable model for use throughout the NHS.

CEO of PHD Dee Kyne takes up the story: “The GPs here were tired of firefighting health issues and wanted to change things to make more of an impact in people’s lives,”  says Kyne, who joined the newly formed organisation in 2007 having previously run other social enterprises. “They wanted to develop a mechanism for intervening in people’s lives earlier, and for enabling people with long-term conditions to manage their own health.

“Unfortunately there are a lot of marginalised groups in this community so we had to find different ways of working with them.”

A huge consultation exercise was undertaken, seeking the views of over 1500 stakeholders, from clinicians to public bodies, charities, other agencies and, most importantly, patients. “We thought, ‘How do you connect all the services in the community?’ We concluded that we had to completely restructure the way we deliver services in partnership with other health services in the community to make a much greater impact.”

With an investment from Big Issue Invest the newly formed social enterprise restratified their patient lists, in other words put them into different groups according to their needs, and created different ways of working with them.

Some of this involves a perpetual events diary engaging different groups along the path to better health; they also created partnerships designed by other services, such as local health organisations, charities or schools; they set up telephonic case managers, who established relationships with regular service users; and they created a swathe of volunteers (the Healthy Communities Collaborative) to go out into the community to reach people. That is where Shazma Bi comes in.

“I go out and give advice and support and people really love us,” she says. “I’ve worked on a dementia project and a diabetes project. It’s been really good for me and has given me a lot of self-belief and self-confidence.”

Shazma began as a volunteer but has also completed a three-month paid contract for PHD. “Working with the community I’m making a positive impact – the work is very inspiring and strengthening,” she says. “People tell me our work is much needed. Sometimes we signpost patients to a GP for a referral or to a clinic to maybe monitor their weight.

“And we have evaluation programs where we ask patients what they think of our services and always give them the opportunity to recommend changes, to express their views.”

This person-centred approach has freed up the GPs to do more effective clinical work and has reduced hospital appointments made by their patients by 40 per cent as people understand more what their requirements are and stop making unnecessary visits to doctors and hospitals. They have statistically proven their impact in the lives of 15,000 people.

Catching people before their health deteriorates and inspiring people to take control of their lives is something that chimes with NIgel Kershaw, CEO of Big Issue Invest and chairman of The Big Issue: “At the heart of The Big Issue’s mission is self-help and prevention and that is why Big Issue Invest feels such an affinity with PHD and their amazing work with the people in their community.”

“Our raison d’être is to create a better experience for the patient and clinicians,” says CEO Kyne, “and when patients start designing solutions they become cheaper, there is no doubt about that.”

PHD’s business is centred around creating savings for the practice and efficiently delivering NHS contracts. “We’re an incubator (of ideas) really,” Kyne goes on. “People (in the health service) talk about being flexible and innovation is starting to happen but the structure of health has not yet got its head round true innovation. We just happen to be fortunate because we were born within a GP setting.”

Smethick now has a healthier community, and one which uses its health services more appropriately, reducing costs and waste. But the benefits don’t stop there: “We’ve had 40 per cent of our volunteers getting back into work,” says Kyne, still surprised by this phenomenon. “Whereas the national average from volunteering is 2-3 per cent.”

Indeed Shazma Bi is still buzzing from her involvement. “I’ve never seen anything like it before, an organisation that goes out in all weathers, sets up a desk and goes out of their way to get information out there. And what’s more the community totally appreciate that we come to see them and don’t just disappear. They know we are always here to help.”




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