Apparently one of the best things that you can do for your mental health is to keep learning. Our recent lunchtime seminar with two medical experts discussing genomes, DNA, the future of healthcare, all set in the backdrop of the current COVID crisis, certainly provided plenty of food for thought.

Developing Healthy Communities facilitates the Derry Strabane Healthy City and District Initiative. Through this initiative we aim to create cross-sector conversations and connections between leaders, to enable people and communities to live happier, healthier and more fulfilled lives. The initiative aims to promote leadership, innovation and collaborative approaches which achieve health for all. This seminar brought together leaders from community, statutory and academic agencies to discuss cutting edge developments in the future of our health care.  

We were delighted to bring together Professor Tony Bjourson, Director, Northern Ireland Centre for Stratified Medicine, Ulster University, Derry GP and former Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners in Northern Ireland, John O’Kelly and Roisin McLaughlin of North West Community Network to hear their take on where we are now and where we are going.

Our experts introduced a number of areas, which we know many of you would like to hear more about and discuss further. These included;


1.   Credit Union for DNA

Professor Tony Bjourson raised the idea of a ‘Credit Union for DNA’ – essentially creating a Community Health Partnership in Derry. In practice that would mean a community owned co-operative with revenues coming back to the community.

We learned that our own individual DNA is critical to how our bodies will react to an illness and the effectiveness of any medication used to treat us. Today, as we have an aging population and many people suffering from co-morbidities, we know that we are taking multiple medications, which may not always be effective.

The concept of ‘personalised medicine’ is therefore one solution. Essentially it tailors medication to an individual’s DNA. To move this from concept to reality, however, requires lots of research and testing on different DNA. We discussed how we could make that happen in our area with a co-operative approach. 

Although many participants recognised the value of personalised medicine and the benefits it could bring. There were also questions raised about ‘who owns your DNA’ and how comfortable people may be to allow their data to be used by pharmaceutical and other companies.

Good points were also raised from participants that medication isn’t the only answer. There needs to be recognition for the importance of social prescribing and that in some cases social issues are the underlying cause of ‘over-medication.’ 

2.   Access to healthcare

Dr John O’Kelly recognised that COVID was causing a “seismic shift” in our frontline healthcare provision. In particular, recognising that GPs delivering care digitally via telephone and video call consultations is likely to be here to stay. Although, it was noted that ‘no patient can be left behind’.

There was also recognition that wait times and communication between primary and secondary care providers could have a major impact on care provision. One of the participants also raised the point that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities, find it difficult to get through to their GP or request referrals as they need language support.

3.   A more holistic approach

Many of our participants at the seminar were raising the point that primary and secondary healthcare is not the only means of supporting our population. It was noted that community prescribing, social engagement and connectedness can also have a significant impact on health. Some suggested that this was particularly used to treat mental health.

One of our participants said, “We know that a person's psychosocial and spiritual needs impact a person deterioration but also can improve quality of life if support is available.  That type of support is provided in communities, albeit many don't recognise the significance of this type of support.  We need to raise awareness of the importance of family and community support and in turn support them.”

While the conversations that began last Tuesday just scratched the surface of some huge issues surrounding our current and future healthcare, it was inspiring to watch and listen to the exchanges coming from a number of different perspectives, but all with the same aim of improving the health and wellbeing of people and communities. 

That’s why we are committed to working in partnership to find ways of continuing these conversations. Our evaluation survey is still open if you would like to provide feedback

Or, just drop me a line at [email protected] if you have ideas for future subjects you would like to discuss.