Promoting healthy lifestyles

NICE public health guidelines can be used not just by local authorities and the NHS, but the wider public, private and voluntary sectors, to help prevent disease and promote good health of both individuals and populations.

An excellent example of this was our guideline on preventing excess winter deaths, published in March 2015, which called on those working in the heating, plumbing and electricity industries to sign post people who live in cold homes to a single-point-of-contact system for help in making their home warmer.

Each year there are around 24,000 excess winter deaths, and many more people are made ill by living in a home that is too cold.

The UK tends to have higher winter mortality figures than colder countries such as Germany and Finland as a result of having some of the poorest housing stock in Europe.

People who are vulnerable to health problems linked with cold homes are those with cardiovascular or respiratory conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), babies and children under age of five, people aged over 65, people with mental health conditions or disabilities, pregnant women and people on low incomes.

“Anyone who comes into contact with vulnerable groups should be able to refer people to the service, including health and social care staff, safety services staff and workers from charities and voluntary organisations,” said Professor Gillian Leng, Deputy Chief Executive of NICE.

“We must stop the revolving door scenario where people are made ill by living in a cold home, they go into hospital for treatment, but then are discharged back to the cold home which continues to damage their health.”

Limit spread of blood-borne viruses among steroid users

In March 2014, we recommended that needle and syringe programmes should support the growing number of image and performance enhancing drug users so they can be offered sterile equipment to reduce the spread of blood-borne viruses and infections from contaminated needles.

The updated guideline aims to tackle a “grey area” for needle and syringe services around England that are traditionally geared up to help hard drug users, such as those who use heroin or crack.

Conservative estimates suggest almost 60,000 people aged between 16 and 59 in England and Wales have used anabolic steroids in the last year.

But many needle and syringe programmes have reported an increase in the number of steroid users, particularly among men aged 18-25, presenting in the last few years, fuelled by the increasing pressures to look good.

Needle and syringe have already successfully helped to limit the spread of infectious blood-borne diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis B and C.

Stop tooth decay before it starts

We set out, in October 2014, advice for schools and nurseries to help children learn how to brush their teeth properly.

In England, standards of oral health vary widely, particularly among younger children. This was highlighted in a recent Public Health England survey which found that in areas such as Leicester, more than a third of children showed signs of tooth decay, compared with just 2 per cent in other parts of the country.

The guideline is aimed at local authorities, health and wellbeing boards, commissioners, directors of health, and frontline practitioners working generally in health, social care and education. It states that local authorities should consider supervised tooth-brushing and fluoride varnishing schemes for areas where children are at high risk of poor oral health.

Public service environments should promote oral health, and information and advice on oral health should be included in all local health and wellbeing policies.

In addition, oral health should be promoted in the workplace, and local authorities and other commissioners should ensure frontline health and social care staff should be given training in the promotion of oral health.

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Helping people recover from alcohol and drug addition

In March 2015, Telford and Wrekin Borough Council won the NICE Local Government Chronicle (LGC) Public Health Award for its work with the Telford After Care Team (TACT) – a support service for people recovering from addiction to drugs and alcohol.

Substance misuse is among the key public health priorities at Telford and Wrekin Borough Council. As a result, the council supported TACT to help people recover from addiction to improve their health, wellbeing and independence.

The council used its public health grant to support TACT, and to develop an evidence-based strategy to help reduce the use of drugs and alcohol within the borough. The strategy was developed through stakeholder engagement, the use of NICE guidance and quality standards on substance misuse, and data drawn from an exercise on needs assessment.