The ‘Youth Health Leaders’ Programme in Blackpool was started as a means to encourage local youngsters to take ownership of the health and welfare of themselves and their community.
By doing so, this has inspired some of those young people to consider a future working within the NHS.
Practice development Sister Sharon Vickers, of Blackpool Teaching Hospitals, was concerned at the numbers of young people coming to hospital with lifestyle related problems such as alcohol dependency, substance abuse and teenage pregnancy and wanted to do something to help these young people take charge of their own wellbeing and prevent hospital admission.
She set up the Youth Health Leaders project in local schools to:
• Empower young people • Give young people the knowledge to promote healthier lifestyles
• Improve the health of their local community
• Reduce the number of hospital admissions due to unhealthy living
• Introduce young people to possible career paths within the NHS
The project involves Sharon and a group of staff volunteering their time to go to schools, talk about health and wellbeing and recruit the children to become Youth Health Leaders – running their own projects and campaigns and educating themselves, with the help of Trust staff, about lifestyle factors and how these can impact health.
The children have organised wellbeing days, invited staff to talk about a wide range of health issues, influenced school meals and networked with other schools in the area. The project is growing in scale and success as more schools join in and the reaction from children, parents and teachers has been overwhelmingly positive.
One group of pupils, concerned about obesity, noticed that pupils were coming to school with bags of crisps for their breakfast, instead of taking advantage of the low cost, healthy breakfast options at school. They arranged a meeting with catering staff and explored options for making the healthy breakfast more appealing.
The catering team at the school now ask the Youth Health Leaders’ advice whenever they are reviewing their menus and pupils are making healthier choices with their food.
At one event Sharon was approached by a 14 year old girl who, after being involved in the YHL project said, ‘I know what I’m going to do after I leave school – I’m going to be a nurse.’ “That was a very proud moment for me.” Sharon said.
The project started as a pilot with one school in 2014. There are now six schools involved, with a further six wanting to join the programme.
Mr Simon Mitchell, PSHE Coordinator at St Mary’s Catholic Academy says, “Attitudes towards smoking and drinking have improved. We are certainly seeing improvements and a lot of that is down to the YHL’s peer role models giving the message and evidencing the benefits, rather than this coming from teachers.”
Helen Hotchkiss, Matron at AKS Lytham said, “I am truly astounded at how the youngsters have embraced this programme and that they do care and want to promote health issues with their peers.”
Sharon praised the Staff Governors’ Membership Committee for their support of this project and is very grateful to Jacinta Gaynor, Membership and Governors officer and Simon Gupta, a hospital volunteer, for their work in driving this programme forwards.