There is an old joke that says “I was reading a great book on glue. I couldn’t put it down.”

Actually, glue and I are not terribly good friends. Invariably, I have the wrong sort for the job and try to mend a mug handle with stuff that only sticks paper or else I use superglue that sticks mug and fingers together far too well. Applying glue either requires precision engineering skills or the confidence of an 8 year old.

But have you come across virtual glue? Virtual glue appears to be far more accommodating than physical glue and, as it happens, came up in discussion at the CEOs’ Group strategy development day in December 2018. The Group was tasked with scoping a three year strategic plan for the UK Public Health Network. As a starting point the Group looked at where the Network had come from, its progress to date and the reasons why what was planned as a year’s experiment has lasted for four years and is now going strong.

It became clear during discussions that the Network meetings are not the superficial tacking together of member and observer organisations that might have been envisaged four years ago. Instead the summits have developed into a neutral bonding space to pick up issues that are too big to be tackled in isolation by any one organisation within the Network or that are not currently being discussed across the whole UK. It is this ability that is holding the Network together so effectively.

Virtual glue also seems to have catalytic properties with a number of the Network’s conversations resulting in further work and a wider interest. The 2018 impact report examines results in more detail but in summary:

Of course, little of this would have happened without financial help and I am delighted to acknowledge the support from The Health Foundation that has been vital in maintaining a small secretariat for the Network.

Where does the Network go from here? There is no shortage of issues. The strategy development day considered the things that still divide the public health community, for example: public-private partnerships, fake news over vaccinations, and harm minimisation vs harm reduction. The plan, therefore, is to start a series of conversations with the aim of reducing tensions over these problems. It will allow the Network to explore further ‘big ticket’ issues such as reframing public health and learning from each other on partnership working to address the wider determinants of health. It will also enable further capacity-building do-once-and-share initiatives as well as reporting on horizon scanning of emerging public health concerns – such as the rise of unregulated “dark kitchens.”

Network members and observers will continue to come together to share learning and knowledge across the four nations. The CEOs Group will build on feedback so that by 2022 the Network will be stronger at:

  • identifying emerging issues that affect health and wellbeing,
  • working across organisational boundaries to respond to inquiries, and
  • learning from good practice internationally where progress is made on addressing non-communicable diseases.

Now that the virtual glue has set and sealed the Network, I am looking forward to helping the Network achieve these ambitions.

The strategic plan for 2019-22 is here.

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