A trailblazing GP has been raising awareness of the Healthy Start vouchers for children under four living in marginalised communities, while using her spare time to raise the profile of Black British history alongside her sister.

Dr Julie Duodu from Leeds is taking part in Health Education England’s trailblazer GP programme hosted by NHS Leeds Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG). Her role has seen her work on raising awareness in the hope of increasing uptake of the Healthy Start voucher and vitamin scheme for families on lower incomes.

Healthy start is a national initiative for pregnant women or those who have children under the age of four who meet the qualifying criteria. With Healthy Start, free vouchers are available every week to spend on milk, fresh, frozen, and tinned fruit and vegetables, fresh, dried, and tinned pulses, and infant formula milk. They can also be used to get free vitamins.

As well as her trailblazing work, Julie and her sister Stephanie Amor are raising the profile of historical and present day Black figures and businesses through their Instagram account @Afro_Leads.

The trailblazer fellowship has been established by Health Education England to engage and recruit GPs that are currently working or about to work in inclusion health practices. These GP practices serve populations that have specific inclusion challenges such as higher number of ethnically diverse patients or those on lower incomes.

Dr Julie Duodu, trailblazer GP at NHS Leeds CCG, said: “When I applied and took up the role of a trailblazer GP on this innovative new scheme, it was before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. However we all know that COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on some communities which has made me even more determined to help my patients who really need to be accessing the Healthy Start scheme to support their children through infancy.

“The pandemic has, at times, made it harder for people to get to collection points. Several groups within the CCG, Leeds City Council and third sector organisations have been working hard to offer more options and availability of venues supporting Healthy Start.

“As GPs we have a unique long-term relationship with our patients, and so being better informed ourselves about this and other schemes better equips us to support our patients. This support could be as simple as raising awareness of a person or family’s eligibility for the scheme or providing assistance to enrol in it.

“Having this additional nutritional contribution at a formative stage can have a massive impact on the nutrition and health of a family. I’ve enjoyed the role as it has exposed me to the wider challenges some of our communities face and how we as healthcare professionals can support them, beyond the medical model of care.”

Speaking of her work with her sister Stephanie on raising the profile of Black British History and Black culture Julie added: “Black history isn’t just for one month however it does help to shine a light on marginalised areas, communities and untold history.

“My sister and I started what we both describe as a passion project through our Instagram page @Afro_Leads. We post daily about UK Black business and culture and this is the third year we have been talking about historically important Black figures during Black History Month.”

“We want to share these stories as this history is not taught in schools. I found out about the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955 in America before hearing about the Bristol bus boycott of 1963 which was one of the main contributory factors leading to the UK Race Relations Act of 1965, but this was not something I’d heard about through formal education settings.

“Our own parents emigrated from Ghana, with dad arriving in the late 1970s to complete his dentistry course and mum in the early 1980s. Their stories, alongside others, create a myriad of narratives and experiences across our ethnically diverse communities.

“We were delighted to participate in a Black History Month event at the Houses of Parliament last year and we’ve been sharing stories on Black history in West Yorkshire with the local media.”

Julie completed her medicine degree from Newcastle University in 2006 taking on a number of roles in healthcare before completing qualifications and training to become a GP in 2016. She is employed by Bevan Healthcare and works from York Street Health Practice in Leeds.

More details on the Healthy Start vouchers can be found by visiting www.healthystart.nhs.uk