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Completing the public health family

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Advisory Board, Developing our own capacity and capability

When I spoke recently at the first annual Public Health England conference, I described it as a very special conference. It was a special conference, I said, because it finally marked the completion of the public health family in England. For the first time, we've brought together the health protection group, the health improvement group and local government. We've brought together people from the former National Treatment Agency, the Public Health Observatories, the intelligence networks and many more. Public health consultants, dentists, nurses, even a few health economists – finally, we’re all together.

That diversity was reflected in the conference’s programme as well. Over the two days we had sessions on fields that, at a glance, would seem almost so disparate as to be unrelated. What they all had in common, though, was actually a very singular goal: the improvement of the public’s health. Whether it was tackling antimicrobial resistance, preparing for the winter flu season, mental health, alcohol and tobacco, or the crucial underlying determinants of jobs, homes and social connections, the goal of the conference and everyone there was to talk about how we can contribute to people living longer, healthier lives.

In a lot of ways, you could see this blog – which I have the honour of launching – as an extension of that conference. We’ll have a lot of different people contributing their views, about what may seem a dizzying array of topics, but in truth they’re all going to be about how we, the public health family, can improve the health of the public.

It’s a real privilege for me to be able to welcome you all to this new blog, Public Health Matters, and I look forward to contributing my own thoughts to it from time to time. In the meantime, I'd love to hear your thoughts - about this blog, about the conference, or about the future of public health in this country in general, now that we're all together in one big family.

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  1. Comment by Nathaniel Eckheart posted on

    It may have been prudent, as the conference was formally the HPA conference, to mention the former agency and the fact that scientists are also involved.

  2. Comment by Jeremy Wight posted on

    Gosh, how different things appear from different view points! Here is a different one.
    While David Heymann celebrates what he sees as 'the completion of the public health family', out at the coal face things look very different. Prior to the latest changes, at local level there was a unified and coherent approach to public health, with PCTs being responsible for all three domains, with strong connections through SHAs to national policy (though you could say that the erosion of the unified local approach started in 2002 with health protection and CCDCs being hived off when the old HAs were replaced by PCTs).
    Now, there is anything but a unified approach. Responsibility for health improvement rests with local authorities, who rightly guard their autonomy. Health protection is split between local authorities, PHE and NHS England. Health care public health for CCGs is delivered by local authority teams through a 'core offer', but specialist public health support to other aspects of the commissioning of health services is reportedly seriously under strain. Directors of Public Health have no clear influence over the commissioning of primary care in their areas. And there are critical aspects of public health for which the responsibility remains as yet undefined (e.g. screening for hepatitis B in new migrants from high risk countries). The dissipation of public health responsibilities across numerous organisations has, predictably and as predicted, caused major problems, which we are of course working hard to overcome!
    At local level, the family is divided and dispersed, if not divorced . David Heymann appears a worthy successor to Voltaire's Pangloss.

  3. Comment by Paul Munim posted on

    We want to see more involvement from voluntary and community sector organisations. We have created a website which is a directory of of local organisations that offer services to local people. Why can't these services become part of the NHS referral network? They are often free and they are local which is important for prevention purposes. The NHS can only provide medicines and treatments to help people, but in order to promote wellbeing it is local activities that people need to engage with. If only a way could be found for the NHS to get people into accessing their local community organisations before they need more serious help and support.

  4. Comment by Paula Higginson posted on

    I would like to make a case her for Community Pharmacists and key players in the Public Health family. Community pharmacists are located at the heart of all local communities. They are easily accessible by all and everyone and largely on a no appointment necessary basis. Many community pharmacies are now accredited as Health Living Pharmacies (you can learn more about these at

    I am a pharmacist and also Programme Director for the MSc in Community Pharmacy Public Health Services at The University of Manchester. This programme is delivered completely on-line which means that it can be accessed from anywhere and at any time with reliable internet access. Our aim is to provide pharmacists with the knowledge, skills and confidence to become leaders in the pharmacy public health arena; able to provide innovative community-based services that will significantly contribute to the public health agenda.

    My hope is that future Public Health England conferences will see increasing numbers of community pharmacists presenting their research on their success stories and establishing their place in the public health family.