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16 December 2022
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Throughout 2022, we have been celebrating the 175th anniversary of the appointment of the first public health official – a Medical Officer of Health (MOH).

Dr William Duncan, who today would be known as a Director of Public Health (DPH), was appointed in Liverpool in 1847 having worked as a hospital doctor and GP contending with the issues of inequality and infectious disease. Duncan’s appointment was closely followed by the passage of the first Public Health Act which gave all towns the right to appoint a MOH. Since then, MOsH – and now DsPH – have been confronted with a whole host of challenges ranging from air quality to alcohol, cholera to climate change, and poverty to poisonings and pandemics. The role of a DPH was thrust into the spotlight at the height of the Covid-19 crisis, highlighting the vital role of public health teams in bringing together departments and organisations from across government, business, voluntary and community sectors. Through such partnerships and collaborative working, they are able to make a positive difference to the local communities they serve, supporting people to live longer, healthier lives. Prof. Jim McManus, ADPH President, commented: “I often think of our work as local leaders for public health as being the glue for when things become unstuck. Ultimately, it is based on the same principles as in 1847, those of partnership, collaboration and practicality. “Sadly, we often find ourselves dealing with the same fundamental issues that Duncan and his contemporaries faced and our challenge now, as it was then, is to find solutions and drive forward change.” ADPH hopes that by highlighting the role of a DPH, future generations passionate about health and wellbeing and reducing the gap between health outcomes for different sections of the population will consider public health when planning their future careers. McManus explained: “Public health is very much a long game. We are working hard both to advocate for national policy changes that put health at the heart of every department, as well as commissioning services locally that help individuals lead healthier lives. “However, we must also look to the future and encourage school leavers to think about whether they could take up the mantle to continue the work that was set in motion 175 years ago.”
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