ADPH Presidential blog: Reflections on being persistent, consistent and insistent

May 24, 2022 in ADPH Updates, Blog by Heather Partridge

Jim McManus, President, Association of Directors of Public Health 

I am now sixth months into my Presidential term at ADPH which, following on from our AGM last week, feels like an appropriate time to reflect on where we are and to set out my stall for what I hope can be achieved over the next two and a half years – and beyond.    

The Association has gone from strength to strength and has become a persistent, consistent and insistent voice when representing the views of DsPH as local leaders for the nation’s health.  Our instinct is to do this working directly with the stakeholders and policymakers we want to influence. 

COVID-19 has undoubtedly strengthened understanding of the role of a DPH – DsPH are much more widely known about and the ADPH as their membership body has consistently contributed to the national response in a measured and constructive way.  Throughout the pandemic, public health teams have been more in demand to comment and give our opinion than ever and, between us, we have had thousands of media mentions.  

Although this rise to notice (or notoriety, depending on your point of view) has only been truly evident over recent years, public health as a profession is actually now in its 175th year.  In recognition of this milestone, we are launching a series of events to celebrate the appointment of Britain’s first medical officer of health in 1847 and I’m looking forward to hearing – and sharing – success stories from across the UK.  By celebrating and highlighting the role of a DPH, the #DPH175 project will also speak to the next generation of DsPH – something that is vitally important in order to sustain the role’s effectiveness and cement public health at the heart of policy and decision making. 

We must support all DsPH past, present and future to keep strengthening the voice for public health and I want our members across all areas of the UK to feel that, through the ADPH, their views will be put forward in a consistent way, taking into account the consensus of feeling to advocate for them at a national level.  We also need to continue to deliver – and build upon – our work to provide our members with support to develop professionally and to help demonstrate their impact.   

By doing all this, and more importantly, doing it well, we will be able to keep improving and protecting the population’s health.   

So, how do we achieve all this in a strong, sustainable and ethical way?  

The motto for our policy and influencing work is to be “as constructive as possible and as challenging as necessary” and by that, I mean that we should be pragmatic in our approach, collaborate at every opportunity but not be afraid to demonstrate our ambition for better.   

As a group, we are good at suggesting solutions, we look at the evidence, share our successes and identify what will work – not just what won’t. From this solid foundation, we can develop policy and advice based on hard evidence. Our adherence to the evidence and our focus on what will work need to remain a hallmark of how we work. 

However, we can only do this by offering effective support to our colleagues.  The Association is restarting its mentoring programme, where established DsPH coach and guide those new in post, not only offering professional development, but helping to establish excellent relationships between different regions from across the whole of the UK.  Members can also access workshops on topics from resilience to leadership and contribute to our policy development via regional networks and policy advisory groups.   

This commitment to supporting members will also of course enhance our ability to secure the next generation of public health professionals and drive forward both the organisation and the profession.   

As for the organisation – we are fortunate to have a small but hugely dedicated and effective team, who are committed to ensuring there are robust processes and systems underpinning all our work and I am grateful for all they do to support me, as President, and the rest of the Board, Council and wider membership.  

It is an exciting time to be a DPH – and a privilege to be at the helm of the ADPH ship when there is so much to play for.   

Moving forward, we must make sure that we harness the power of our collective voice to help influence the levelling up agenda and ensure that the wider determinants of health and prevention are fully considered. This will support the delivery of measured and effective prevention and intervention strategies in collaboration with our partners and stakeholders that deliver real improvement to our communities.   

Our guiding principles then – of influencing through collaboration; of being constructive; of being evidence-informed; of supporting our members; of developing clear policy and of ensuring a sustainable organisation – when woven into all we do, will only serve to strengthen our impact.