Viewpoint - Improving public health

The NHS Future Forum is looking at four new topics. Public health is led by Ash Soni and Vicky Bailey.

Ash Soni: improvement in public health is everyone’s business and the NHS has a crucial role
Ash Soni: improvement in public health is everyone’s business and the NHS has a crucial role

In its second phase, the NHS Future Forum is considering four new topics, one of which is the NHS's role in public health.

We are engaging patients, the public and NHS staff in the question of keeping the public's health at the heart of the NHS. We know the Health Bill proposes the establishment of Public Health England as a service that gives more power to local people over their health, while keeping a firm national grip on crucial population-wide issues, such as flu pandemics.

However, improvement in public health is everyone's business and the NHS has a crucial role. Early themes to emerge are the importance of partnerships between clinical commissioning groups and health and wellbeing boards which use the knowledge and experience of a local population to create environments for supporting the public's health.

This will cover all parts of the NHS and will include an understanding of health inequalities and the prevalence of lifestyle diseases, public and patient behaviours and the importance of clinicians giving consistent public health messages.

There is a financial imperative for the NHS to improve the public's health, to reduce costly management of long-term conditions caused by lifestyles.


Vicky Bailey: we have been asking for people’s views on what mechanisms commissioners and providers can use to support NHS and public health professionals in improving outcomes in public health

Individual role
In addition, there is the role of individuals in their own health and using the NHS wisely, and action the NHS and local and national government can take to support lifestyle behaviours and help patients take responsibility for their health.

The NHS Constitution talks about patients' rights and responsibilities and we have found support for this so far.

We are also interested in how the NHS can use its strength as an employer to improve the health and wellbeing of its staff. If we look at the NHS workforce as a representative slice of the country's population, we cannot ignore the responsibilities of a health system towards its employees and the unfortunate irony if access to better health is denied to NHS staff by their own organisations.

For example, how easy is it for staff to access smoking cessation or help with obesity? How does stress at work contribute to health and wellbeing and what can the NHS do about this? We are looking at how well NHS staff understand these health messages and act on them.

So we have been asking for people's views on what mechanisms commissioners and providers can use to support NHS and public health professionals in improving outcomes in public health. Specifically, we are asking about the points at which the system comes together to improve public health and how we ensure colleagues in housing, education, local authorities, the third sector and private industry work together with the NHS for the best outcomes. Decision-makers in health need to be open to this new way of working. This flexibility would offer opportunities for innovative solutions.

  • Please visit www.healthandcare.dh.gov.uk where you can download resources for your own listening event.
  • Ash Soni is a community pharmacist and clinical network lead for NHS Lambeth in south London. Vicky Bailey is a nurse/midwife and chief operating officer of Principia, Partners in Health, a not-for-profit company she established which is part of NHS Nottinghamshire County.

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