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How does a public health agency contribute to economic growth?

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

At Public Health England we recognise that having a good job is one of the most reliable determinants of good health, so I’m delighted to be able to reflect upon the many and varied ways that we, as a public health agency, contribute directly to the economic growth and sustainable job creation agenda.

The life sciences sector is a vital driver of business growth and skilled employment. The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) 2011 Strategy for UK Life Sciences and the 2012 follow up paper “Strategy for UK Life Sciences, One Year On”, sets out plans to make the UK a world-leading place for life sciences investment.  Public Health England is willingly engaging with this and has a significant contribution to make to this strategy.

Public Health England and its predecessors are acknowledged as having one of the strongest track records in engaging with industry in the public sector, though perhaps we don’t publicise this enough. Now that we are more than half way through our first year of existence, and given renewed interest in the potential contribution of public health science to economic growth, this has proved a good time to take stock of some of the practical ways in which we can and are contributing to UK plc. These are pretty diverse: Public Health England has made a demonstrable contribution to the growth agenda in a wide variety of ways, from training to scientific support to the private sector to promoting UK capability overseas. The list is by no means comprehensive, but at least demonstrates the breadth and economic impact of our activities.

All our priorities are set according to the impact that they will have on public health, that’s a given.  In so doing we make no distinction between activities that are core-funded by Treasury and those for which we generate funds externally. Nor is there an objective to generate revenues for Public Health England as an end in itself. It is worth noting, however, that we do win over £170 million of external funding each year to support the development of our science base, which significantly reduces the cost of our operations to the taxpayer.

So how does a public health agency contribute to economic growth? It probably makes most sense to think about PHE economic impact in three categories: “specialist services”; “testing and quality assurance”; and “intellectual property and innovations”. By the nature of our work, we possess specialist facilities and provide specialist services like training, manufacture of highly specialised drugs and vaccines, and diagnostics for infectious diseases. Access to these facilities and services can allow companies (particularly small and medium-size companies) to develop new products and technologies that they could never afford if they had to build these capabilities from scratch.

In the life sciences sector, quality assurance is critically important. By offering our testing and quality assurance capabilities to industry (for example by testing of equipment, or proficiency testing for microbiology laboratories) we provide an objective, evidence-based view of a company’s products and services. This isn’t to offer an endorsement or impose a compulsory check, but to allow companies to take advantage of independent testing by some of the most experienced scientists in the field. Wherever we can, we also look for opportunities to find industrial partners for our innovations so that they can be taken forward and developed. Cancer drugs, treatments for rare conditions, and radiation protection software not only benefit the health of patients and the public, but provide opportunities for skilled employment as they are manufactured and used.

In coming months I’ll provide more detailed posts on specific aspects of our activities, but for now I’d welcome your thoughts on how else we might use our skills and capabilities to support economic growth.

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  1. Comment by Bren posted on

    Hello Michael,

    I don't think you, or the leadership given by Duncan Selbie/the team at PHE should underestimate the depth and breath of achievement to date (by this I mean your proven ability to operate across disciplinary boundaries for the good of public service).

    I wondered if, in your additional posts you would consider the economic growth in terms of inequalities and how this is set in the context of “specialist services”; “testing and quality assurance”; and “intellectual property and innovations.” I know we have a clear focus on this at PHE but I just wondered if we may have an economic thought of this in terms of your next post(s) in so far as the economic benefits/social value judgements of reactively taking this complex, but hugely vital agenda forward.

    You have all done remarkable work, through remarkable leadership, and in a honest and positive way. Be proud of yourselves too.

    Thank You,


    • Replies to Bren>

      Comment by Michael Brodie posted on

      Thanks, that's a really interesting point you raise Bren. We haven't yet tested the nature of our impact on economic growth on the inequalities agenda and if we can we'll certainly do so. I'm really keen that the next step is to better quantify the benefit of the twenty or so ways in which we support this agenda and if that quantification can pick up the distribution of the impact from an inequalities perspective then that would be great. I suspect we may not be able to track it that degree, but its definitely worth exploring. Thanks again for raising the issue. Real food for thought.