Beat The Scrum!

8th June 2018

Beat The Scrum!

We are all aware of the pressures that health and social care services across the UK are currently facing. Whilst the Government and Health and Social Care staff are actively looking at ways of addressing the high demands placed on our services, sometimes some of the most innovative ideas come from the unlikeliest of places. Nick Garbutt is editor of ScopeNI and in our blog he recounts hearing about how sport can be used as a vehicle for highlighting some of the issues within our health services.

Each year the Academy of Fabulous Stuff gives its Rosa Parks award to organisations who have demonstrated creative and innovative solutions to problems faced within the National Health Service. In late 2017 the prestigious award went, not to a surgeon, researcher or administrator, but to Widnes Vikings, a small town rugby league club on Merseyside.

Their Beat the Scrum campaign is designed to help tackle one of the most difficult problems faced by the health service today: the tsunami of pressure faced by hospital emergency departments.

This winter Northern Ireland hospitals were overwhelmed with a 14% year-on-year increase in people attending Emergency Departments and 928 people waiting more than 12 hours for admission, transfer or discharge.

It is important to stress that the vast majority of people attending our emergency departments are there because they need to be. But their treatment is not helped by people who show up with minor, non-urgent, non-life-threatening conditions, seemingly oblivious to the services provided by minor injury units, GPs and pharmacists.

So why did a rugby club take up the challenge, what did it do, how much did it cost, and what lessons are there to be learned here, in Northern Ireland and elsewhere?

The club’s director of communications and digital engagement is John Hughes. Hughes was aware of the crisis in emergency departments and thought the club would be well placed to help, given their status in the local community.

It also had the right people. “We develop young players, so many of our team have been with us since they were 14 or 15 and at the heart of what we do is not just to develop good players, but also to develop good men. And they have been really enthusiastic and up for this from day one.”

He wanted to develop a campaign that not only showed the benefits to people of seeking care in the right place at the right time, but also connected directly into the sport. The Halton Clinical Commissioning Group was keen to work with the club and so a partnership was formed.

The objective was to direct people to use the most appropriate service based on their condition and also to promote services such as flu vaccinations to further reduce stress on the service. It was also important to explain why this was in their interests. So, for example, the waiting time for Halton’s Urgent Care Centres is around 57 minutes, as opposed to 4 hours in an A&E.

With a budget of a few thousand pounds Hughes developed 20 videos starting with Beat the Scrum, where he got players to scrummage in a hospital waiting room. Another shows the Vikings’ coach Denis Betts laying down the law to his players about local health facilities. The clips are all just a few seconds long, are cheesy but fun, and make a clear, simple point.

What happened next was beyond his expectations. The winter series of videos has been viewed more than 300,000 times. Visits to the Urgent Care Centres started to rise and pressures on the local A&E started to decline. It is, of course, vital to ensure that such campaigns are not designed to put people off from seeking medical help when they need it, but to point them in the right direction.

The campaign was especially important to health bodies because it allowed them to connect to audiences which they traditionally find hard to reach – especially the so-called hidden 40% of people who have practically no contact with health services.

It has long been recognised that many issues can be raised and promoted through sport. Widnes Vikings have proved that even with a small budget it is possible to make a difference.

Do you think this approach could work here in Northern Ireland?  What other ideas do you think could help people make the right choices when choosing where to go for medical care?

Let us know in the comments below!