Working across a time of great transition and change for public health services locally, Nottinghamshire County Council and Nottingham City Council have established a steering committee group which has coordinated public health partnership work with the two authorities' library services to deliver Reading Well Books on Prescription. City and county public health services have supported the libraries' work by funding Reading Well Books on Prescription book collections and leaflets. Here Uzmah Bhatti, public health manager for Nottingham City Council, who has played a key role in cementing joint working since spring 2014, reflects on achievements and challenges to date.
"A huge increase in loans by local libraries"
Reading Well Books on Prescription was not a completely new thing in our area, as a similar project had existed locally, but since it has been launched available data shows that there has been a huge increase in loans by local libraries of books on the Reading Well Books on Prescription for mental health list. They have gone from around 100 per quarter to 500 per quarter in Nottinghamshire County, and have maintained this. Nottingham City is developing and testing a monitoring system that can accurately record data on Books on Prescription loans. You can now walk into any library in the city or county area and get a Reading Well Books on Prescription book, and that feels like an important achievement.
Our steering group, which I chair and manage, meets quarterly. Members come from clinical commissioning groups (CCGs),GP practices and library management; they also include wellbeing managers and talking therapy service providers, to represent those involved in Reading Well Books on Prescription prescribing. We've also had interest from other CCG engagement officers and mental health commissioners, and in our area there are two very large universities whose wellbeing and mental health officers are in touch with the group. They have all been sent leaflets and information; we have established a virtual group of people who, whilst they are not attending steering group meetings, are receiving meeting notes and information, and thus are aware of Reading Well Books on Prescription.
"We see libraries as very important to local health needs"
The steering group shares good practice and ideas for promoting Reading Well Books on Prescription more widely. For example, Mental Health Awareness Week has long been a fixture in Nottinghamshire during October, crossing over with World Mental Health Day and involving lots of library-based activities. We used this as an opportunity to promote Reading Well Books on Prescription: we see libraries as very important to the health needs of our local communities because they offer an early intervention opportunity that is not in a clinical setting. Very often, people with mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression can feel stigma around going to a setting such as clinic or a mental health centre to get help and information; it can be easier to go to a library.
We also have the Nottingham Story Shop which is based on the human library model; mental health service users become 'books' and organisations who host the Story Shop invite employees or guests to borrow a 'book' who then shares their story. It's about sharing experiences around mental health and addressing stigma; with opportunities like this Reading Well Books on Prescription adds important value in that it allows us to be able to refer people on to further sources of information. We want not just to engage people but encourage them to explore further.
Accessing a book from the Reading Well Books on Prescription list via a library can feel easier for people reluctant to go down the medical route in terms of conditions such as anxiety or depression. They can be wary of going to a GP and having it on their medical record; people can fear for their employment and career prospects. Being able to read about and understand their condition takes away the fear of the unknown and is empowering.
Advice for library authorities
My advice to library authorities wishing to work more closely with public health services on Reading Well Books on Prescription would be to ensure you have clarity on who is going to lead any partnership. You will also need a clearly identified commitment to marketing the service, and to keep an open mind to wider ideas of who can help with signposting the scheme and prescribing in order to reach as many people as possible; not just CCG commissioners and public health representatives but educational institutions and third sector providers and community groups who, if engaged and briefed, can provide 'soft touch' signposting and help reach people for whom accessing help in a clinical setting can present barriers. For them, Reading Well Books on Prescription is filling an important gap and giving them empowering information. Public health is now part of local authorities so working closely with libraries should be easier; however, keeping the NHS involved will require additional effort.
Find out more about Reading Well Books on Prescription.
Explore resources to support health professionals and library staff to run the scheme.