As a nation, we have seen an increase in average life expectancy, however people spend more years in poor health and the difference in health outcomes between socio-economic groups is stark. This is despite us having one of the best health care systems in the world in the form of our National Health Service.
It is clear that we need a fundamentally new approach to creating and sustaining health, both mental and physical, at every stage of life, across all our communities. We know this can't be achieved by just relying on the traditional public health workforce; we need to engage a much broader range of people and fire and rescue services are key to this.
The recently published reports about the wider public health workforce, from the Centre for Workforce Intelligence and the Royal Society for Public Health, highlighted fire and rescue services as a priority group who have the opportunity, skills and enthusiasm to improve the health and well-being of the population.
So I am delighted to say that today Public Health England, the Chief Fire Officers Association, NHS England, the Local Government Association and Age UK jointly published a consensus statement highlighting the huge opportunities from engaging fire and rescue services in improving health and wellbeing as well as the actions we will jointly take to support the further development of this work.
I am really pleased to champion the role of fire and rescue services in improving health and wellbeing. Fire and rescue services have been working in a preventative role for a long time now and these interventions have reduced the number of people who die in fires. Many services have expanded their safety role to include health and wellbeing, for example through falls prevention, smoking cessation and focusing on mental wellbeing.
This contribution is incredibly valuable because fire services are such a trusted brand, fire fighters can access communities that others can't and they have both the opportunity and capability to incorporate health and wellbeing into home safety visits.
As part of the discussions to develop the consensus statement we have considered how fire and rescue services can support public health and health and social care. The list of potential interventions is a long one but all partners believe there is opportunity for fire and rescue services to support a huge range of issues including:
- promoting health, wellbeing and independence in older adults;
- supporting access to services for vulnerable members of our community;
- using a ‘making every contact count’ approach to health improvement; and
- contributing to workplace health and wellbeing
All of these will require training, local pathways, integration and access to data, however none of these are insurmountable and the potential reward is significant.
Public Health England is supporting this in many ways, one of which is our work with the Chief Fire Officers Association to help build the evidence base and return on investment data of fire and rescue service interventions to reduce winter related illnesses.