Rethinking the Public Health Workforce

Millions of people, of all ages, come into contact on a daily basis with the public health workforce. Numbering some 40,000 people, this workforce is creaking under the strain of a rapidly expanding population and rising levels of chronic disease. Now in order to support the radical upgrade in public health, it is the time for us to look for others beyond this core workforce who are able to encourage people to lead healthier lives and support behaviour change.

To make this a reality will require action on many levels and the combined efforts of people from a wide variety of professions and backgrounds. The reorganisation of the public health workforce in England and its collocation within local government, provides a unique opportunity to encourage many of those who don’t have a traditional public health role to play a greater part in improving the public’s health.

This “wider public health workforce” includes anyone who is not a public health specialist or practitioner but has the opportunity or ability to improve the public’s health. This report goes some way to identifying the wider workforce and identifying how it can play a greater role. The professionals who make up this wider workforce are many and varied ranging from unpaid volunteers, social care providers, police and fire services, housing and education, sports and leisure, local communities, as well as a wide breadth of healthcare professionals who are not part of the core public health workforce, such as Allied Health Professionals and Community Pharmacy. The Centre for Workforce Intelligence estimates that this wider workforce encompasses approximately 20 million people (ONS labour workforce survey 2014). Tapping into this diverse range of human contact could provide significant opportunities to promote health messages and initiate or embed behaviour change through healthy conversations and signposting to other services. The wider workforce is undoubtedly an unsung and instrumental part of the new public health landscape.

A sea change is required. Investing in the wider workforce is imperative if we truly want to see a radical transformation and upgrade in prevention. To make health and well-being everyone’s business, we must ensure that many diverse sectors fully understand how they can or are already contributing to the health and well-being economy and ensure they are competent in doing so.

Our vision is to develop a flexible workforce that is committed to promoting and protecting the health of the population, building on the great foundation already laid by the current active wider workforce.

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