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Archive for the ‘Health Protection’ Category

Dr John Middleton, Director of Public Health for Sandwell and FPH Vice President, email vpPolicy@fph.org.uk

On first reading, the health bill seems silent on public health roles in the health service. More than 300 public health specialists and consultants who work in health service public health are justifiably nervous about what the future public health system holds for them. In a set of reforms establishing Public Health England and local-authority-based public health directors, they could have expected some acknowledgement. There is what we expected about the other two domains of public health: health protection and health improvement.

Fortunately the subtext of the bill holds much more hope for public health in health services. It confers duties of engagement, partnership, quality and reducing inequalities on the NHS Commissioning Board and GP commissioners.  Even Monitor needs public health – if it is to create national tariffs that genuinely reflect the most effective interventions delivered most efficiently rather than reward incompetence, gaming and worsening of inequalities in health services.

Health-services-related public health is arguably the most technically exacting facet of public health and certainly the most contentious. It requires rigorous knowledge of healthcare interventions and epidemiological and interpretative skills are needed to show what works and what does harm. As the margins of benefit from new drugs and treatments get smaller, careful analysis becomes ever more necessary. Assessing complex healthcare data is crucial activity – truly a matter of life and death – not an exercise of faceless bureaucracy or unnecessary management cost.  Some patients will die when we do decide to fund their high cost – and high risk – drug.

These funding decisions cannot be left to the newly emasculated NICE – implementation is local. The best national policies flounder if they are not locally understood and implemented.

Health services public health is not always popular – rationing decisions invariably get unravelled in appeals, press examination, in legal dispute and judicial review. There may be political expectation that big healthcare private organisations will bring the skills to evaluate healthcare for GP commissioners in the future. This has hardly been borne out by the   hospital deaths misinformation, or the quasi-scientific risk-stratification products on offer.

The return of public health to local authorities holds the welcome recognition of where the major influences on health still are.  Many of us cite McKeown’s decline of mortality since 1840 due to clean water, sanitation, better housing and working conditions, better nutrition and smaller family size. The big environmental challenges, work with social care on reablement and personalisation, and the need to reduce health inequalities are live issues for public health in local authorities. Twenty-first century diseases such as obesity, relationship and behavioural problems and addictions also lend themselves to big public health responses from a local-authority base.  But equally relevant in the 21st century is the health service contribution to life expectancy gain – Bunker, Frasier and Mostellar’s Millbank review concluded that about 30% of the life-expectancy improvement since the NHS came along was due to healthcare factors. The capacity for health services to do harm as well as good is immense, and the need to get better value for money in healthcare is ever more relevant.

There is growing recognition of the need for health promotion or ‘lifestyle’ interventions in healthcare. Acute services are seeing it as part of QUIPP and many are instigating ‘stop before the op’ smoking cessation programmes. GPs also increasingly have opportunities to refer to food and fitness services, psychological therapies and addiction-brief interventions. It is easy to see how GP commissioning should be involved in commissioning alcohol services – jointly with the local authority DsPH – to cover all preventive and therapeutic interventions. Less easy, but just as relevant in reducing hospital dependency, would be joint commissions on fit-for-work programmes, welfare rights and housing improvement.

With hospitals being more dangerous places than roads these days, health systems need public health skills more than ever. More than 30 consultants and specialists in public health work in acute hospital trusts. Hospitals, and health centres, are outlets for health information, signposts and venues for health promoting activity and potential exemplars of health improvement for staff, patients and visitors. Business choices for hospital and community trusts should be informed by good health-needs analysis, assessment of best evidence of effectiveness and evaluation. Care pathways should all include ‘lifestyle’ programmes as a key choice in the pathway– for example, before bariatric or vascular surgery.  This is equally relevant in GP commissioning. For the first time we are beginning to have good data about morbidity and about quality of care in general practice. These data have to inform the joint strategic needs assessments. But they also have to be interpreted and used in primary care.

Public health specialists need to be embedded in organisations because that is the only way their advice will be taken on – consultancies we all take or leave. There should be consultant level public health expertise in all arms of the new health system – including the NHS Commissioning Board and Monitor. But we need also a coherent base on which all the public health training and development is founded – only Public Health England appears capable of that. There are encouraging signs that GPs and others in the new NHS are recognising the need for healthcare public health – you won’t find it in the health bill.

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By Alan Maryon-Davis

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley wants to encourage people to eat healthily, drink sensibly, stop smoking and get more active without lecturing or hectoring them. People don’t like being told what to do or not do – least of all by the Government – so Lansley says we should provide them with information and incentives and let them choose for themselves – nudging rather than nannying. Hence the Great Change4Life Swapathon with its supermarket discount vouchers for healthy options. Lots of carrots, no sticks.

There’s also much nudging behind Lansley’s Responsibility Deal with the food, drink and fitness industries. Double nudging – Lansley nudging them to nudge the public. Industry will “pledge” to provide information and incentives encouraging healthier choices.

So where’s the fudge? In return for industry cooperation (and cash) Lansley has said he’ll go easy on mandatory regulations around such things as marketing, labelling, availability and pricing. To be fair, he doesn’t rule these threats out completely. He talks about the Nuffield Ladder of Interventions, with the least intrusive (information, education and incentives) at the bottom and the most intrusive (regulation and legislation) at the top. But he’s made it clear he doesn’t want to climb that ladder unless he absolutely has to. It wouldn’t fit his political philosophy.

So there’s a big fudge around how he’ll monitor adherence to voluntary approaches, assess progress and judge when to bring in mandatory controls. The food and drink industries are notoriously slippery, evasive and foot-dragging – just look at labelling and marketing. Meanwhile the health lobby is going along with the Responsibility Deal in the hope that things might be different this time – well aware they risk being be-smudged as part of the fudge.

I’d like to see a solid pledge by the Government to regulate or legislate if voluntary approaches fail and to be crystal clear about how and when such judgements will be made. Without an explicit commitment to use force if necessary, the deal will be seen as no more than a charade letting Big Business off the hook.

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Plenary session 2 at the Faculty of Public Health annual conference, on Wednesday 7 July.

Chaired by Dr Liz Scott, Treasurer at Faculty of Public Health, and panel members Tony Jewell, Chief Medical Officer Wales, Laura Donnelly, Health Correspondent of the Sunday Telegraph, Sarah Boseley, Health Editor of the Guardian, and Lindsey Davies, Former National Director of Pandemic Influenza Preparedness.

 

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World TB Day

On March the 24th 1882 Dr Robert Koch announced that he had discovered the TB bacillus, the cause of tuberculosis.

Here are a couple of links that highlight the problem that still blights so many people’s lives across the world – almost 130 years on from Dr Koch’s discovery.

A moving and enlightening video about TB in India – how the poorest cannot afford the expensive drugs.

TB in pictures, photographer David Rochkind has documented the disease in Mumbai.

One mother’s story about her struggle with TB in Chechnya.

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By Dr Emilia Crighton, chair of the Scottish committee of the Faculty of Public Health.

So the government has decided to bring in a ban on pub and club drinking promotions that encourage people to drink fast and furiously. Licensees will face fines of up to £20,000 or face a prison sentence, under this new tougher code of practice.

This is definitely a step forward in attempting to tackle a British drinking culture that encourages people to see drinking large volumes of alcohol as an achievement to crow about to friends, rather than a threat to their health.

The introduction of the mandatory code of practice banning irresponsible promotions; the need for age verification policies; and ensuring smaller measures are available, acknowledges the failure of the voluntary arrangements that have been in place until now.

Making pub and clubs offer free tap water to customers, from April, should also be welcomed. Drinking water could help drinkers slow their consumption of alcohol and tackle dehydration.

As the FPH has regularly argued, alcohol consumption in the UK has doubled over the last 40 years and the average consumption of alcohol in the population is directly linked to the amount of harm. Increases in alcohol consumption have been driven by an increase in off sales, which now represents around 51% of alcohol volume sales, up from 24% in 1980. Consumption is strongly linked to affordability: as price has fallen, consumption has risen. Alcohol is now 69% more affordable than thirty years ago. The increased affordability of alcohol has been driven by the off sales sector.

Tackling price and availability are the most effective alcohol policies aimed at reducing alcohol related harm. Research produced by the team at Sheffield University which modelled the effect of different levels of minimum pricing on alcohol consumption indicates increasing impact on consumption with increases in price. For example the introduction of a minimum price of 40 pence per unit in Scotland would have a very small effect on consumption (-2.7 per cent), while at 50 pence and 60 pence, there would be significant changes in consumption (-7.2 per cent and 12.9 per cent respectively). The higher the price, the lower the consumption, and the lower the harm caused by drinking.

However, the government needs to go further. The introduction of a minimum price per unit of alcohol sold will have the highest financial impact on harmful drinkers.  People who drink within the sensible drinking guidelines will hardly be financially affected.   For example, if a 40p minimum price was introduced, it is estimated that a moderate drinker’s spend on alcohol would go up by £11 per year (21p per week), but that of a harmful drinker, who tends to buy more, cheap alcohol, would go up by £137. The increased prices in alcohol could be offset by lower prices for food and non alcoholic drinks by the supermarkets.

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Doctors, nurses and students highlighted the health benefits of tackling climate change in the lead up to the mass climate change march The Wave on 5 December. Wearing blue scrubs, pushing a hospital bed carrying a ‘sick’ globe and distributing ‘prescriptions’ for a healthy planet the group aimed to raise awareness of the threat of climate change to human health here and around the world.

On the march the Health Wave group also met the Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband to deliver him the message “what’s good for the climate is good for your health”.

See pictures of the Health Wave event

Read the blog by David Pencheon, Director of NHS Sustainable Unit, on BMJ.com
Read the blog by Tony Waterston, Medact, on BMJ.com

The event was organised by the Medact, the Campaign for Greener Healthcare, the Climate & Health Council, Medsin, the NHS Sustainable Development Unit and the Royal College of Nursing.

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By Dr Alex Gatherer

Consider some of the facts relating to prison health.  The majority of prisoners, some 80% or so, have some form of mental ill health, and between 5-10% have serious mental illness, which requires specialist care in suitable facilities.

Furthermore, in any community, the local prison at any one time will hold a disproportionately high number of non-nationals and minority ethnic groups, of people positive to HIV and Hep C, of people with educational and social skills deficiencies, of those addicted to some form of substance addiction, of those with serious communicable diseases and of those previously hard-to-reach in our cities and towns.

In most countries, including our own, this high needs group will be detained in old premises with inadequate facilities for meaningful activity and recreation and often in overcrowded conditions.

And the majority of prisoners will be out of prison and back in their home environments on the streets in our communities often after only a short time.

‘Statistical compassion’ is one of the unmentioned skills required of top quality public health practitioners.  We must be able to look behind the statistics and see the suffering, the unmet needs and the social injustices amongst the individuals who make up the overall figures that are so central to the reports we write.  Without ‘statistical compassion’, how can we make sure that we take into account, in everything we do, those who are in greatest need?

Public health has a choice. We could ignore the above, as we did for many years and waste any opportunities to help a vulnerable high risk group. Or we could realise that it is in the interests of public health as a whole to prevent our prisons from being focal points of disease.

We could also realise that the right to health applies to all.

  • Dr Alex Gatherer is Fellow of the Faculty of Public Health. In November 2009 he was awarded the American Public Health Association’s Presidential Citation for his work in improving health in European prisons.

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