Posted by Beatrice Liddell at 20/01/2015 13:26:41
It’s easy and tempting to think of deprivation as something that’s only experienced in the inner cities or in the UK’s former industrial heartlands.
But in reality, you don’t have to trek to London’s East End, Glasgow or the South Wales valleys to see the impact of inequality. It’s a great deal closer to home, in Thanet.
Beyond the popular image of ‘kiss me quick’ hats and candyfloss, many parts of Margate and Ramsgate have high levels of deprivation. And deprivation can have a profound impact on health.
Social exclusion, poor diets, poor housing, unemployment and substance abuse can lead, if unchecked, to people leading lives that are unhealthy – and tragically short.
Being a Margate GP, Dr Heather Scott encounters the reality of deprivation on a daily basis. For the last 16 years, she’s worked in the town’s Bethesda surgery, and many of the patients that she sees live in deprived wards.
Heather has recently taken on the role as the NHS Thanet Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) inequalities lead, and she feels that is a vital task in an area where one in four children – and many adults – experience poverty.
“Margate in one of the most deprived parts of the UK,” says Heather, “and there are a lot of problems. We have an excluded immigrant community, looked-after children and high levels of substance abuse – so there are quite a lot of needs.”
Heather knows that there are no ‘quick fix’ solutions to ingrained problems, but she has the will to make a difference.
“I have a real passion for this,” she says, and makes reference to her work with the multi-agency Margate Task Force and also with Turning Point – the social enterprise that helps people realise their potential and build better lives.
“There are many people out there who need to be congratulated,” says Heather, “including the voluntary sector, Salvation Army, different churches and community associations.”
For Heather, no social problem is insoluble of someone takes the time to shine ray of light into a person’s life.
“Hope is the absolute key,” she enthuses. “If you knock on someone’s door, it shows that someone cares about them.”
She adds: “There are some in Thanet who have never made formal contact with the health services. You have to try and coax them out and make them believe that there is something better.”
For those who have been blighted by unemployment, the “something better” is work – whether paid or unpaid – and the meaning that it can bring to human life.
Heather uses the analogy of a stick of seaside rock in tackling inequalities and replacing feelings of hopelessness with hope.
“Like the writing in a stick of rock, the message has to go right through everything – and it’s not easy,” she says.
And that’s why Heather believes in the strength of agencies working together to tackle existing problems.
She enthuses: “Working with housing officers enables you to see the negative impact that poor housing has on health, for example.”
With so many people needing so much help, it may be easy for a cynic to dismiss such efforts because of the gigantic nature of the task in hand. But Heather is armed with a strong conviction and also finds strength in her Christian faith.
She says: “I strongly believe that everyone – irrespective of their perceived abilities – should be treated equally and we must show people that they are valued.”
For Heather, a person with dementia is still a unique human being and deserves to given the respect, dignity and care that they richly deserve. A middle-aged man living alone in a bedsit may have a story to tell about why he seeks solace in alcohol on a grey winter day.
That’s why she’s excited to be working with her CCG colleagues in putting inequality under the spotlight and using her professional and clinical knowledge to help implement changes.
In Thanet, less than a mile can separate a deprived ward from a more affluent ward. But the distance that separates quality of life can seem much larger. Heather, however, believes that the gap, slowly but surely can be closed.
“You start small or you get overwhelmed,” she says. “But there is always the opportunity to turn someone’s life around.”
For more information about the work of NHS Thanet CCG, visit www.thanetccg.nhs.uk