The health trainer services were introduced in 2004 and are now an integral part of the wider public health workforce. Since their introduction, almost 3,000 health trainers have supported more than half a million people to make positive lifestyle changes in areas such as smoking, physical activity, alcohol, diet and emotional issues.

On 22 September 2015 RSPH held a unique conference to celebrate the work of health trainers, “Health Trainers - Changing Lives”, supported by RBE Associates. The event was hosted by health trainers in Enfield and was attended by over 100 health trainers, service managers, commissioners and other health professionals.

The event provided an opportunity for sharing the work of health trainer services, finding out more about the national picture for their services and learning about their local impact.

The event was opened by Shirley Cramer CBE, RSPH’s chief executive. Shirley provided an overview of the origins of the health trainer service and their clear remit to provide advice “from next door” to reducing health inequalities. Research from national data sets has shown their success in focusing on helping people in the most deprived communities to meet their health objectives.
Health trainers are often trying to help people with complex needs and, while mental ill-heath may not be the presenting problem highlighted by their clients, it is often an underlying factor. Health trainers are now working in new ways and in new settings not envisaged in their first inception. We continue to review the competencies that health trainers now require and how their education can be supported.

Dr Shahed Armed, Director of Public Health, then provided an overview of the impact which the health trainer service is having in Enfield. Health statistics have shown a high level of deprivation in the area, particularly in the east of the region. They have the highest level of child poverty in London, with high levels of child obesity and high rates of infant mortality. Health trainers have used a variety of ways to reach out into an ethnically diverse area and achieved measureable impacts. Graham Rushbrook provided an overview of the history of the health trainer services, in particular in relation to Haringey, one of the first services.

David Hopkinson from the Data Collection and Recording Service (DCRS) described the statistics collected and collated from health trainer services across the UK. It is a means of collecting data from community engagement activities as well as data from individual interventions.
The DCRS not only provides individual services with a means of recording and measuring their success, it also provides a national picture of the benefits health trainer services provide for clients physical and mental wellbeing. The national data also shows that health trainers are successful in targeting those in the most deprived regions and the data has been proved a valuable aid in supporting commissioning decisions for the provision of local health trainer services.

Claire McLeod from Health Education Wessex then explained that RSPH had been commissioned to develop a Governance Framework for Health Trainer services. This framework, which can be downloaded from the RSPH website, provides a check list of recommendations and best practice standards for providers of health trainer services, particularly those based within host/partner organisations. It describes arrangements for recruitment, induction and training, service management, service delivery and evaluation. The governance framework supports organisations in taking responsibility for the quality and safety of health trainer staff, health trainer clients and the overall service delivered.

Tracey Herd, Deputy Chief Executive of the Men’s Health Forum, explained the illhealth men experience and the ways in which they can be reached and helped. In the UK 19.6 per cent of men die before the age of 65, compared with 12 per cent of women. Men experience higher levels of cardiovascular disease and they have higher levels of suicide. They are also more likely to smoke, be overweight and have higher levels of hospital admissions attributed to alcohol.
It has been estimated that in the UK there are over 69,000 avoidable male deaths per year. Some innovative ways of helping men to improve their health have been piloted in the Man MOT programme in Haringey. These have included an out of hours text / e-mail service for contacting GPs, reaching out to men through targeted promotions and delivering Health Checks for men with Tottenham Hotspur Foundation. The message is that men are not really hard to reach, but health trainers services need to promote their services to reach men.

Alex Ollivier, Tess Dawe and Katie Wheeler then gave a lively presentation which explained more about the work of health trainer services in Cornwall. This includes the CHAMPS programme which ensures that people with a learning disability in Cornwall and Isles of Scilly get equal access to the health service. This is done by checking the services and obtaining feedback from service users. Through the CHAMPS programme they also train staff about the needs of people with learning disabilities and advise organisations on the changes they can make to improve their service provision for this group of people.

The conference then included a series of workshops on various aspects of the work of health trainers including men’s health, sexual health, keeping people safe, training and development and evaluation of services. Following feedback, the event concluded with two health trainers receiving their well-earned level three health trainer certificates.

The conference also highlighted that RSPH is considering the development of a special interest group for health champions and health trainers from its membership. (For more information about the benefits of RSPH membership please go to this link.)