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  • Geographic information plays a key role in all our public health analysis, whether it is to accurately plot vaccination uptake for children or to understand where to target public health programmes. People understand reams of complex information much more easily and they can visualise the data if it is presented on a map.

    Colin Seward, Public Health Intelligence Specialist, NHS North Essex

From accurately targeting ‘no smoking’ campaigns to plotting hotspots of low take-up of immunisation programmes, Ordnance Survey geographic information is having a major impact on improving health care in North Essex.

The challenge

With its charming countryside and easy access to London, the population of north Essex has grown rapidly over the last decade. Residential developments have multiplied, as more families move into the area, eager to take advantage of affordable accommodation, good schools and an easy commute into the city.

New development; however, puts pressure on local health care facilities, particularly GP surgeries, which can struggle to cope with the extra demand created by population growth. The effective planning of health promotion campaigns and health care interventions can also prove difficult with a rapidly-changing demographic.

The solution

NHS North Essex is the umbrella organisation for a group of agencies that are working together to plan and buy healthcare for a local population of just under a million people; between Harlow in the west, Braintree in the north, Chelmsford in the south and the Clacton and Harwich coastline.

Local public health officials use geographical information systems (GIS) for multiple applications around access to services and rely heavily on Ordnance Survey mapping data to inform their work.

Their job has been made easier by the Public Sector Mapping Agreement (PSMA), introduced to enable all public sector organisations across England and Wales to use a wide range of geographic datasets including OS MasterMap® and OS VectorMap® District. Most of the information is available online and there is an easy start-up process for individual agencies to subscribe. NHS North Essex is one of many health care organisations to register for the PSMA and has been taking full advantage of Ordnance Survey resources to accurately plan and tailor its services.

Impact of new housing on primary health facilities

While maps play a key role in all public health analysis, they have become an integral part of planning process consultations for residential developments where geographic information is used to determine the impact the new development will have on local health services.

Where the local health care facilities would be unable to provide services for the increased number of patients resulting from the new housing, developers will be requested to fund any increase in capacity of primary health facilities required as a result of a new development. For example, this may be provided in the form of developer (capital) funding for the refurbishment, extension and/or equipping of a GP surgery or, in some cases, the provision of a new GP surgery.

Funding that has been secured through planning legal agreements or secured in principle (subject to planning permission for development being granted) to increase the capacity of primary care services in the last two years include:

  • £1.12 million capital funding for the refurbishment, re-equipping and extension of GP surgeries.
  • Provision of land and £2 million capital funding for potentially a new four-GP surgery to serve a major new growth area.

Innovative mapping technologies are also supporting a wide range of other applications in North Essex, including:

No smoking campaign

Ordnance Survey geographic information underpins a local ‘stop smoking’ programme, where demand has increased by 300% since more effective targeting of services has been introduced. By using maps to identify where high levels of smoking occurred, the service was able to step up its campaign in Braintree, one of the area’s main pockets of deprivation. As a result, clinic provision in the town has tripled, with one team alone now seeing over 75 clients per week.

Carol Ryley, Strategic Coordinator, Stop Smoking Service, Central Essex Community Services, says: ‘The maps provided by the Public Health team have been invaluable in providing the information we need to accurately identify specific areas for targeting within mid Essex. They are constantly used for ensuring adequate and appropriate service provision and for streamlining advertising campaigns to particular socio-economic groups.’

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

A pilot project was initiated to improve the detection of undiagnosed Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) using community pharmacies. Maps were provided to the project team to assist in identifying areas of high-risk patients and optimally located pharmacies to include in the programme. The maps provided a useful and powerful way to assist in visualising the spread of services across the area and to ensure that a good geographic coverage was catered for. By being able to accurately locate the project pilot sites, the screening programme was able to identify around one in ten screened patients as having possible signs of COPD, and then refer them on for further investigation.

Su Stephens, Business Delivery Manager Long Term Conditions, Mid Essex Clinical Commissioning Group, stated: ‘The maps really helped the project group to visualise the area we wanted to target, which was the most potentially high-risk areas for undiagnosed COPD. The visual effect allowed us to select a fairly even distribution across the patch we focused on. Pinpointing both GP surgery and pharmacy locations alongside one another also identified very easily who would need to be informed or involved in the project.’

The benefits

  • Major funding contributions secured from developers to increase the capacity of local health services.
  • More effective targeting of health promotion campaigns.
  • Improved health interventions to vulnerable groups.
  • Better value for money and use of resources.
  • Easy to visualise complex information on an interactive map.
  • Enables sharing of geographic data through the PSMA to encourage more joint working.

The products used

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