Durham University ready for a role in meeting the Public Health Challenge
(17 November 2004)
Professors at Durham University who specialise in public health-related issues have given a general welcome to the government’s latest thinking and point to ways in which ongoing work at the University, in Durham and Stockton, can contribute to the planning process.
David Hunter, Professor of Health Policy and Management in the School for Health, says: ‘The government has set out a challenging agenda in its plans to improve the nation’s health and to tackle the anti-health forces arising from smoking, poor diet and other lifestyle choices that contribute to a widening health gap between social groups.
‘The University looks forward to working with the NHS, local government, regional agencies and others to deliver on the agenda that has been set out’.
And Professor Ray Hudson, Director of the Wolfson Research Institute at the University’s Queen’s Campus, Stockton, emphasises that the Institute is committed to working closely with the NHS at all levels through its research on public policy and health and help make a difference in the life of communities in the North East and elsewhere.
Both senior academics, leading experts in their fields, were responding to the government’s white paper, Choosing Health: making healthier choices easier . Professor Hunter welcomes the moves to restrict smoking in public places. Although these go further than expected, Professor Hunter is disappointed that the government has stopped short of introducing a total ban in line with Ireland and with what is likely to happen in Scotland from next year. There is support within the North East region for a total ban.
He said that despite its shortcomings, there is much to welcome in the government’s plans although they will only be achieved if political will is sustained and if the NHS, local government and other partners implement the required changes. Making it happen will be the real test of the proposals.
Professor Hunter believes the University has an important part to play in making it happen and looks forward to the delivery plan promised in early 2005 which will provide more detail on implementation strategies. He welcomes the emphasis on evidence and information for action and the recognition that the research base needs to be strengthened in order to provide evidence on the effectiveness of interventions designed to improve health and reduce health inequalities. Up until now, investment in research in this area has fallen seriously behind biomedical research. The additional £10 million to be available by 2007-08 is an important indication of the government’s determination to make a step change happen.
A key part of the University’s Wolfson Research Institute’s mission is that its research on public policy and health should impact on practice and make a difference to the health of communities in the North East and beyond. The Director of the Institute, Professor Ray Hudson, stressed that the Institute is committed to working closely with the NHS locally, regionally and nationally and has strong links with local health care organisations and local authorities. For example, the North East Public Health Observatory located within the Wolfson Research Institute works closely with academic researchers as well as NHS managers and practitioners. The government’s public health plans will strengthen the 9 regional PHOs and expand their role from one of surveillance to developing skills in equity audits and health impact assessments.
It is proposed that all health care professionals should be given training in health promotion and prevention which has implications for the teaching of medical students at Durham University’s Queen’s Campus as well as the development of post-experience opportunities in building the public health workforce and expanding capacity. The skills required include strong management and leadership for health improvement.
The chief challenge in making progress is ensuring that there is effective implementation and delivery. Making public health matter to chief executives so that the targets are seen to matter as much as those driving improvements in acute health care is the only way to achieve results. Professors Hunter and Hudson welcome the opportunity to further develop collaborative links and work with those charged with managing change through the University’s applied research and organization development activities.
The public health white paper presents an enormous challenge to all those concerned about health improvement and health inequalities. Professor Hunter believes that he and his colleagues in Durham and the region’s other universities have an important and relevant contribution to make in sustaining public health action.
Note to Editors
For further information about the Wolfson Research Institute and School for Health visit the website www.dur.ac.uk/wolfson.institute.
For further inquiries: Professor David Hunter, School for Health, Wolfson Research Institute.
Office Tel: 0191 334 0362
Mobile: 07802 501042