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Health checks for farmers could be extended

Shropshire Council’s community wellbeing outreach team is hoping to extend the free health checks service that has been launched at Shrewsbury Livestock Auction Centre.

The sessions are supported by regional auctioneers Halls, and will initially run for four weeks but Hannah Thomas, team manager, is keen to see the free services extended due to demand from farmers.

Running every Tuesday morning until February 21, the existing service offers visitors to the weekly livestock market the chance to have a blood pressure check, as well as more general health and wellbeing advice.

Halls’ auction centre, located on Bowman Way off the A49, is one of the busiest livestock markets in the West Midlands. Anybody visiting the market can drop in for a health check, with no prior appointment needed.

“We have had a great couple of days at the auctions so far and it has been encouraging to hear so much positive feedback from the community,” said Hannah.

“One of the blood pressure checks that we carried out last week resulted in an immediate referral to a GP, for a problem which might have been missed if it hadn’t been for the convenience of a 10 minute visit to us. 

“We are also really pleased to have been able to offer a listening ear, share some wellbeing advice and signpost support in the community.  We know that the industry can be very demanding, and we are here for farmers and their families. We are hoping to expand the service, possibly extending to mental health and cancer champions too.”

Jonny Dymond, Halls’ senior auctioneer and Shrewsbury Livestock Auction Centre manager, said: “Farmers tend to put their livestock before themselves and they are used to battling through, as it’s what is expected of them.

“People say that if you see a farmer in the doctors’ surgery, there must be something seriously wrong with them. In the same way as we take a car for an annual MOT, we would like to see farmers have a health check regularly."

Andrew Bebb, Shropshire Rural Support chairman and a dairy farmer at Hanwood, near Shrewsbury, was the driving force behind the free health checks trial, having previously visited the field nurse service at Bakewell Livestock Market with two members of Shropshire Council’s community outreach team.

He said farmers, including those who have retired from the industry, enjoy meeting at Shrewsbury livestock market every week. Being unable to get together during the pandemic had impacted the health of the farming community.

“Farmers rarely go to the doctor because they have to take time away from the farm,” he added. “Attending the market is one occasion when they leave their farm and spend time talking in the café after dropping off their livestock.

“This outreach service allows them to check their health whilst they are here and it’s amazing what they tell the team who also check a farmer’s mental health in a very subtle way.”

He revealed that farmers were under pressure from huge increases in the cost of energy, fertiliser and other commodities, and banks were being careful about lending money or extending overdrafts.

Chris Downes, a member of Shropshire branch of The Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI) and Shropshire Rural Support president, said RABI was dealing with ever more complex cases. The charity provides guidance, financial support, practical care and mental health counselling to farming people of all ages.

“I think this community wellbeing outreach service is a brilliant idea to support farmers coming to the livestock market,” she added. “We must thanks Halls for their support in allowing us to come here and hopefully it will encourage farmers to have their blood pressure taken and to have a chat.

“It’s certainly ok to not be ok and there is a large number of charities in the Shropshire farming community who are there for those who need help.”