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Libraries and job centres could offer public health advice under new Norfolk County Council plans

By David Hannant, Local Democracy Reporter

Librarians and job centre staff could be called upon to dish out health advice to overweight people and smokers in a shake-up of Norfolk County Council’s health strategy.

As the council looks to shave £15.8m from its spending in the coming year, cabinet members will run the rule over a range of proposed changes to how it addresses public health concerns when they meet on Monday.

And these concerns appear to be many, with alarming statistics showing some 400,000 adults in the county are overweight or obese and one in six adults are smokers.

King's Lynn Library where Ian Whiting will be meeting potential volunteers on Friday(18293000)
King's Lynn Library where Ian Whiting will be meeting potential volunteers on Friday(18293000)

With growing pressure to cut costs though, council bosses have proposed a range of reforms to how it helps these people.

Among these changes, it will be looking to roll out training for many of its staff to help people make changes to improve their health.

While more in-depth training will be offered to those in professions directly linked to health, library staff, job centre workers and those in voluntary organisations are also earmarked.

A report to cabinet members said: “The aim is that more frontline workers will be able to help their clients to change their behaviour in order to improve their health.

“There would be a tiered approach to the training offer, meaning that professionals would be trained according to the level of opportunity their role provides for supporting behaviour change.

“There are some key groups of professionals for whom behaviour change training might be prioritised, such as those working in libraries or other groups who come into contact with those who may need help the most.”

These members of staff would be trained to direct individuals to various forms of support if they wish to live healthier lifestyles.

But union leaders say it would be a concern if staff are not financially remunerated for fulfilling this role.

Unison branch secretary Jonathan Dunning said: “Our approach is that it is reasonable to ask that if workers do take on additional tasks they are paid for it.

“I also expect there to be proper consultation and discussion on what training will be given and to whom.”

However, Jan Holden, head of libraries at the county council, said it would be “business as usual.”

She said: “The library service in Norfolk supports health and well-being in many ways. We start with books and information through our Reading Well programmes and offer a range of health-related activities.

“Frontline library staff are already trained in mental health first aid, general safeguarding, dementia-friendly and autism-friendly techniques.”

The plans would also see an end to the council funding Slimming World prescriptions for people referred by their GPs.

Currently, County Hall makes around 2,750 places on the courses available to people who have been advised to lose weight by their doctor.

NHS health checks would be funded for an estimated 7,000 fewer people – though these would remain available on request.

Officers say the new strategy is designed to “enable support for individuals to come from a wider range of sources” and place more means of help into the community.

Other aspects include greater online resources for public health information through a new website and a new helpline.

Bill Borrett, cabinet member for public health, said: “We are aware that some people need our help more than others and would like to focus on these people to help them make changes.

“I am really excited about our proposal to change the way we work to support people.”

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