Innovation in Public Health

By David Kidney, UKPHR Chief Executive

As Chief Executive of this UK-wide public health register, I regularly attend meetings where the public health workforce is considered. Examples are the 4-nation advisory group People in UK Public Health and the Public Health Skills & Knowledge steering group.

I also attend meetings in the West Midlands because this is where our office is located, and these include a West Midlands Public Health Workforce Strategy Group and an Innovative Health Working Group. At a meeting of the latter, I was asked to give a presentation about innovation in public health. I agreed, and a date in February 2020 was set.

To prepare for my presentation, I canvassed opinions from public health leaders. I asked my selected public health professionals these three questions:

  1. Please tell me an innovation in public health which involved you
  2. Please tell me an innovation in public health that impressed you (anywhere in the world)
  3. What innovation would you suggest would help improve public health practice and impact in the future?

I received lots of great answers from colleagues. From these, I put together a power point presentation. I took it to the February meeting of the Innovative Health Working Group and gave my presentation. After my presentation, members of my audience asked several questions, which I answered. After the meeting closed, many of those present told me my presentation was informative and gave them information they had not previously known.

Why did I do it? I had often said in previous meetings that the discussion about health was too narrow. Nearly always, the talk was about patients and doctors and new treatments. I wanted people to think and talk more about wider determinants of health, upstream interventions and preventive approaches. I wanted to hear and take part in discussion about promoting wellbeing and reducing inequalities.

My Working Group peers evidently thought it was time for me to put up or shut up. I accepted their challenge to talk about innovation in public health, I very much saw this as an opportunity to educate a group of influencers who mostly thought of “health” in terms of patients, doctors and treatments. My aim was to raise awareness of population-based interventions addressing wider determinants of health, and I think I achieved it.

If you should be moved to follow my example after reading my blog, I recommend this approach. Be on the lookout for opportunities to reach audiences where knowledge of NHS care is broad, but knowledge of public health practice is narrow or absent.

In case my slides may be helpful, I am publishing them alongside this blog for your information. You are welcome to draw from my presentation if you wish.

Good luck – and let me know how you get on.