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Five-minute guide to...doing a health needs assessment

Get to grips with the basics of PBC with our eight-part guide, produced in conjunction with the Improvement Foundation

Get to grips with the basics of PBC with our eight-part guide, produced in conjunction with the Improvement Foundation

Official definition

The systematic method of identifying unmet health and healthcare needs of a population, followed by making changes to meet that unmet need.

Put into layman's terms

Finding out exactly what local people need from their health service and delivering it.

What it involves

Assessing need, identifying best models of care, ensuring best value for money.

Important because...

Resources are limited and must be deployed in the most effective and efficient way.

How to go about it

Step 1: Define your area

A health needs assessment (HNA) may be undertaken for a disease area, such as CHD, or across a population group, such as people on a particular housing estate or people with learning disabilities.

Step 2: Work with the right people

Talk to people from the organisations currently providing services to understand their perspective. Work out how you are going to involve patients or the target population group in your work. Public health departments can provide valuable help in the HNA process and identifying relevant information sources.

Step 3: Source the evidence

There are three key questions to address when collecting evidence for a HNA. Much of the information you need will already be available, but some may need to be collected specifically.

• What is the size of the problem?

Possible information sources include hospital activity statistics, local or national surveys, data from practice registers, QOF data and local voluntary group information.

• What will help address the problem?

Evidence will be available from research studies (effectiveness and cost-effectiveness), from NICE guidance, national service frameworks and other guidelines, and from the population groups themselves (surveys or focus groups) on what would help them.

• What services are currently available?

Review of existing services (both within and outside the NHS) for the relevant population. Staff views on the current services or lack of services are relevant here, as are views of the target population.

Step 4: Report and recommendations

The HNA report should answer the three key questions using the evidence, then move on to identifying service gaps and discussing resource implications. The final section will make recommendations for the most appropriate and cost-effective solutions.

Background/relevant policy

World Class Commissioning competency 5 emphasises the need for PCTs to undertake robust needs assessments that establish both current and future health and social care needs for their population.

Service or population specific HNAs are complemented by a strategic overarching Joint Strategic Health Needs Assessment (JSNA), which is developed for a whole local authority area by PCTs and local authorities working together.

Pitfalls to avoid

Be careful not to rely on just one form of evidence and include people's views as well as statistics and hard data. You need to look at the whole local picture.

Find out more at The Improvement Foundation, which runs basic and advanced commissioning courses.

Next month: Reviewing current service provision

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