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07 November 2019

How the health of our workforce influences Dorset’s economic growth

How the health of our workforce influences Dorset’s economic growth

The health and wellbeing of our society is intrinsically linked to Dorset’s economic stability and growth, says Professor Lesley Haig, Principal of AECC University College.

If you’re unfortunate enough to be off work sick for six months with low back pain, statistically you’re highly unlikely to ever return to the workforce. That’s why early intervention and access to appropriate care right from the start is paramount. With 119 million working days lost per year to back pain*, the sooner a medical condition is diagnosed, the sooner treatment can start - and the sooner a person can get better and return to work.

As a health sciences specialist, AECC University College works closely with colleagues in the integrated care system, as well as the local primary care network, to find improved models of care that can support the effectiveness and ambitions of the workforce and improve quality of life and wellbeing.

We are not only a specialist university delivering courses in health sciences to around 800 students, but also operate a large onsite health clinic and imaging centre (with MRI, ultrasound and x-ray) which deliver 50,000 patient contacts a year. We are a musculoskeletal centre of excellence and are proud to have the only upright MRI scanner in the region facilitating potentially life changing diagnoses.

Older people are more susceptible to musculoskeletal problems. The treatment of these conditions is particularly relevant in Dorset, which has the UK’s oldest population** and a predicted dependency ratio of one person working for every pensioner by 2040. It is important to support people to be as active as possible and enable them to live as well as they can no matter what their age or work status. 

Dorset’s emerging Local Industrial Strategy recognises the region’s ageing population is a challenge and welcomes the opportunity to see this as a strength. Extra years of life are not always spent in good health, with many people developing conditions that reduce their independence and quality of life. By ensuring that older residents receive the right kind of support to help them live well for longer, they will be able to participate and feel valued for their contribution to society and the wider economy. Healthcare providers must seek to provide the right care at the right time and in the right place. This requires an integrated healthcare system and healthcare workforce that fully understand and can support the needs, aspirations and ambitions of older people.  

As a specialist health sciences university, we want to play our part not only as an education provider but also as a healthcare provider to ensure that appropriate care is available for everyone across Dorset. It is critical that we optimise older people’s wellbeing and their potential to make a positive contribution to society that supports Dorset’s productivity. There is a great opportunity for Dorset to use its unique position to establish itself as an innovator and sector leader in supporting older people to age well and in recognising their contributions to the economy. In doing so, Dorset will leverage its standing as a region with an older population to its advantage.

Improving quality of life goes a long way to helping achieve this. Pain management, for example, can help transform behaviours and improve mental as well as physical wellbeing; our work with Public Health Dorset rolling out stroke rehabilitation programmes aims to improve wellbeing and reduce secondary health problems following stroke. By working smarter across Dorset, we can optimise access to, and use of, the healthcare service. It must be as effective as possible and ensure people get care when they need it. Left untreated, one medical problem can cause secondary issues – there is a strong link between physical health and mental health which can be particularly problematic for the older population.

And so, I go back to the importance of early intervention and access to it. It’s a tough ask, but it’s about responding to the needs of society, the pockets of problems - be they social wellbeing or health wellbeing - and working together with various organisations to ensure appropriate diagnosis and treatment is provided from the outset. 

I am a strong advocate of partnership working. AECC enjoys a good relationship with Bournemouth’s two other universities, and between us we can provide a broad and complementary offer to ensure we cover the educational and workforce needs of Dorset and support its wellbeing.  

Complementarity is critical and we must build on this. We need to connect better as a group and work in partnership - there is no room for competition in Dorset. 

AECC University College’s standing as a higher education establishment and health clinic offers a sound business model. Our work is extensive. Locally we enjoy health partnerships with Bournemouth Athletics, AFC Bournemouth, Bournemouth Rugby and Bournemouth University. We host an NHS Pain Management Service onsite and deliver First Contact Practice services with Dorset’s Primary Care Network.  Further afield our work ranges from partnerships with Southampton and Exeter universities to projects with the European Space Agency focusing on spinal biomechanics and our ultrasound imaging work for the Premier League. We’ve developed a special imaging methodology which is renowned internationally as the gold standard. There is huge scope for Dorset to be a global leader in this field and build on this specialism.

The challenge is turning this opportunity into a reality for our region and giving Dorset what it needs in terms of support. We are making fantastic inroads already. We now need to make sure that people know about Dorset, understand our offer and ensure they use our expertise. 

I hope that Dorset’s Local Industrial Strategy will address this challenge. We have the potential to shift things very quickly and use it to Dorset’s strength and success. If we can do this then we face a positive and exciting future.

Read more about Dorset's Local Industrial Strategy and share your thoughts on the ways we can make our ageing population a strength in the region.


**UK’s oldest population & lowest proportion of under 50s - Dorset LEP LIS initial framework October 2019  

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