Members of the UK Public Health Network are all too aware of the challenges to the public’s health which have changed markedly over the last few decades. The significant growth in a range of health problems related to smoking, alcohol and drug misuse, obesity and physical inactivity alongside threats from new infectious diseases makes it absolutely critical that we review how we support the public’s health and wellbeing and deploy our resources including our workforce so that they have the maximum impact.

Our more sedentary but increasingly stressful lives and the unwelcome growth of health inequalities warrant comprehensive strategies which include both the places in which we live and work and the choices we make. Never has it been more critical to have in place a workforce with the appropriate skills, knowledge, values and competencies at every level to help build a healthier UK.

All countries across the UK have been considering these challenges and it has been very positive to be working together through the’ People in UK Public Health Group’ (PIUKPH) which I chair and which provides independent advice to health departments across the UK about the future of the public health workforce. We have agreement that we need to build robust and clear career pathways for those already working to support the public’s health and for the workforce of the future. We also understand the importance of enabling individuals to work across the four nations to develop their expertise and experience.

In March, Public Health England produced ‘Fit for the Future’ – a review which outlines five key themes that underpin the response to developing a “new” workforce for 2021 and provides a pathway and plan to achieve it.  Most importantly these themes were identified and agreed upon by a broad range of individuals and organizations across the UK already actively involved in supporting the public’s health including, the current workforce.  Although the report was undertaken by PHE, views were included from across the four nations and a consensus on the proposed recommendations was reached by a wide group of stakeholders.

It is readily acknowledged that public health is everyone’s business and that our aim must be to influence and improve many aspects of an individual’s life including transport, housing, education and the environment if we are to begin to shift the pendulum towards a healthier, happier country.  We must build on the role of the ‘wider workforce’, those in fire, housing, leisure, pharmacy, Allied Health Professions and many others to embed prevention and support throughout the system. By giving them permission to be involved in prevention and supporting the public’s health, providing training, and then mainstreaming activity across many professions and volunteer groups, and ultimately celebrating success, we can create the climate for a social movement for health.

There are new threats to the public’s health each year, so building on research, intelligence, technical and managerial skills to remain at the forefront of both national and international public health is essential. The UK has one of the most highly regarded public health response systems in the world and it should remain so. Alongside this, strategic and system leadership for the public’s health will be a priority in the next few years as more opportunities are provided for leadership training which crosses numerous domains and professional areas.  The new Public Health Skills and Knowledge Framework, which has been built by engaging stakeholders across the UK will provide a solid base for future careers. The ‘fit for the future’ workforce review can be found here and there has been Government commitment to take forward and implement the recommendations.

A workforce fit for the future will need to be both resilient and flexible, so creating meaningful opportunities through different, but clearly defined – pathways will ensure that a career in public health will be both exciting, challenging and attractive to young people from diverse backgrounds. A sea change is required to improve the public’s health and increasing the pool of candidates, providing first class training and development within a broader system will go a long way to meeting the challenges we face.

 

Shirley Cramer
CEO
Royal Society for Public Health