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November 14, 2023
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Our new President on the future of ADPH

With a general election looming, climate change a constant shadow and groundbreaking tobacco legislation within touching distance, the next few years will be an important time to really cement our position as the go-to organisation for public health.

Greg Fell
ADPH President

I am both delighted and a little humbled to have been elected President of the Association of Directors of Public Health. Although to some extent I ‘know the ropes’ having been Vice President for over two years, I am conscious that my predecessor, Prof Jim McManus, was an exceptional President who led the organisation with a drive and passion that will take a lot of living up to.

There is obviously no point reinventing the wheel, but there is still much we can do to continue to highlight the vitally important role Directors of Public Health and their teams have in improving and protecting the public’s health. Prevention too is fundamental to our work and, as we all know, far better than cure.

There seems to be an increasing appetite amongst politicians to embrace this position and post-pandemic, public health has come into the spotlight like never before. With a general election looming, climate change a constant shadow and groundbreaking tobacco legislation within touching distance, the next few years will be an important time to really cement our position as the go-to organisation for public health.

There are three broad areas I would like to prioritise to continue our current momentum.

Firstly, I would like to continue working on how we share responsibility for representing the views of DsPH. It is simply not possible for any one single person to represent DsPH on every issue. Our members are highly skilled and have expertise in a wide range of topics. To really capitalise on the  talents and experience we have amongst our membership, we should develop our concept of shared leadership further. This is not only how we can best contribute to discussions about national policy and practice across the four nations of the UK, but also how we can best develop ADPH policy – by listening to and reflecting the expert voices of our members.

Secondly, ADPH represents the voice of DsPH throughout the UK. In the past we have tended to focus on the English system but the fundamental nature of the DPH role is the same for DsPH whether they work in Wales, Scotland, Ireland, England or indeed Britain’s Islands and Overseas Territories. We have started improving our engagement with members in the devolved authorities but I recognise that there is more to do and much we can learn to enhance all aspects of our work by embracing every opportunity to engage with members from all corners of the UK.

Finally, we have made great progress in recent years – partly due to the pandemic – in representing the voice of DsPH to Government and across the public health system in both policy decisions and practice improvement. This is an area we must continue to build on to ensure that what we, as local experts of population health, know works on the ground is borne out in national decision making.

ADPH as an organisation has expanded to reflect this increasing influence and, as President, I also want to ensure that our members get the full benefit of their membership. This year, we have seen the expansion of our social media presence and implementation of both a new website and secure members’ digital platform – all of which have taken our engagement and communications work to a new level of accessibility. We have also seen the formation of a brand-new public affairs function, enabling us to communicate more effectively with both our stakeholders and parliamentarians. In addition, we have appointed a dedicated Development Programme Manager to put together a comprehensive support offer and forward programme of masterclasses and skills workshops for our members.

Through these new avenues, we have the potential to maximise our professional development and reach a much broader audience, with support from a wide range of individuals and organisations. This will in turn enable us to further our work to tackle the overarching, fundamental social and commercial determinants of health.

I am particularly passionate about shaping our role around the commercial determinants, as it becomes increasingly clear that their influence on the wider determinants has far-reaching consequences for the inequalities we see in health outcomes. Understanding – and explaining – the nuances around industry influence in all areas of our health will be an ongoing struggle which, much like that of tobacco control, will undoubtedly take many years to tackle.

With all areas of public health though, it is important that we recognise not just the role of DsPH, but also the roles of the so-called ‘wider workforce’. So many people are part of the solution to preventing ill-health – from teachers to town planners and refuse collectors to restaurateurs. None of these people have ‘health’ in their job titles but without their commitment to people’s wellbeing, the health of our communities would be much poorer. I am determined that as well as raising awareness of the – often misunderstood – role of DsPH, we continue to raise awareness of just how important every single person in our society is to contributing to the population’s health.

This is particularly so with our partners in the voluntary sector who are vitally important. Working together with these groups, both on a local and national level, is fundamental to improving the nation’s health. As President I look forward to building on our close ties with some of the many charities and voluntary organisations that champion our common cause with such dedication and passion.

Above all else, I want to look back on my time as ADPH President and be able to say that we have collectively made a difference. Principally, a difference to people’s lives so that we are all living longer, healthier lives. However, to do that means we need to advocate for changing how policy is made both nationally and locally. As we have said in our Manifesto for a Healthier Nation, every decision needs to be made with the consequences for people’s health in mind. To do that, we will need to continue to use the evidence to challenge the status quo when it is not working, to make sure the correct services are being funded to prevent ill-health from happening in the first place and to continually improve practice, identifying where things are going well and why and applying those lessons to areas where more needs to be done.

I’m not so bold to think I can achieve all this in my term as ADPH President. However, I will work with our staff, members and partners to achieve as much as we possibly can together, with the aim of being one step closer to creating a society that is truly geared towards promoting and protecting people’s health and wellbeing.

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