Librarians could have to give health tips as it is revealed 400,000 Norfolk adults are overweight
- Credit: PA
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 next week run the rule over a range of proposed changes to how it addresses public health concerns.
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.
With growing pressure to take cost-cutting measures though, council bosses have put forward a range of proposed changes to how it helps and supports these people.
Among these changes, it will be looking to roll out training for many of its staff members to help people make adjustments 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 going before cabinet members next week says: "The aim is that more frontline workers will be able to help their clients to change their behaviour in order to improve their health.
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"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 different forms of support if they wish to live healthier lifestyles, be it through losing weight or giving up smoking, for example.
However, union bosses say this would be a cause for concern if staff members are not financially remunerated for fulfilling this role.
Jonathan Dunning, branch secretary of Unison Norfolk County, 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: "This would be business as usual for libraries.
"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 proposed changes would also see an end to Norfolk County Council funding Slimming World prescriptions for people who have been 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. However, this stands to be discontinued.
Another cost-cutting measure would see NHS health checks 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 of the proposals 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."
Norfolk County Council's cabinet will discuss the proposals on Monday, October 7, in a meeting which will be broadcast live on YouTube.
The council's report ahead of the meeting discloses a number of worrying statistics around health in the region.
It states that the county has a wide range of issues around public health, particularly related to lifestyle choices such as diet and smoking.
- 280,000 of adults in Norfolk do not eat a healthy diet
- One in six adults in the county are smokers - that's 119,000 people
- 400,000 adults are either overweight or obese
- One in five adults - around 132,000, do not engage in exercise.
- One in four adults drink more than 13 units of alcohol every week
The proposals come at a time when the council clearly finds itself in challenging times financially.
With County Hall needing to find £16m in savings in the coming year - on top of £31.1m already agreed - there is a requirement for some creative thinking in terms of how it delivers services.
The uncertainty around Brexit - and the very issue of it in general - creates a cloud of doubt over the council's financial position, particularly given matters of local government funding are taking a back seat to Brexit arrangements.
However, the council is still duty bound to make sure that those in need of help the most are cared for and not left in the lurch.
It is not surprising that Unison is questioning whether it is fair to heap extra expectations on already stretched staff, but from the council's point of view you can understand why it feels this need.