Assistant Director of Public Health and Prevention at Staffordshire County Council
I’m Claire and I’m part of the public health team in the county, where we aim to improve the health and wellbeing of the local population. It’s a broad role and covers a range of responsibilities, from the prevention and management of infectious diseases (like Covid-19), to ensuring good uptake of vaccines, promoting healthy lifestyle choices, and research and evaluation.
We use data to understand the health of our residents, as well as listening directly to communities. Whatever we do, our focus is always on preventing illness, promoting good health, and reducing inequalities in health outcomes.
Much of my job is about working in partnership with other organisations and council teams. This might include working with the planning department to considering the positive and negative health impacts of a major development, or how we can increase access to green spaces to get people more physically active.
We encourage people to be independent and look after their own health, but when people need a bit of extra help, we have specialist services for things like stopping smoking, drug and alcohol misuse and sexual health. The pandemic has made some of these challenges worse; we’ve seen increasing obesity and alcohol use and declining mental health. This is especially true in our more deprived areas and health inequalities are widening.
I’m worried by the increases in costs of living this winter. If people reduce their heating it has an impact on health. We’ll have more cases of Covid-19, plus seasonal flu, and people may not be able to afford to buy or cook healthy food. There will probably also be a negative impact on people’s mental wellbeing. To try and help, we are running very practical schemes like our Warmer Homes project for low income households where we work with partners to provide advice and measures to stay warm, like free insulation and solar panels.
We work closely with adult social care teams to support people to be healthy and independent in their own homes for as long as possible. Our ‘supportive communities’ programme includes community help points, assistive technology, advice and guidance and support for people who are lonely. Our community champions programme is an exciting initiative which is led by residents, developing solutions that work for them. We had some real success during the pandemic increasing the uptake of testing and vaccination in one community.
There’s no need to be medically trained to work in public health - many come from another profession such as environmental health. There are two main routes into specialist roles: via a 5 year training programme, or by developing a portfolio of evidence. I came through the latter route, which enabled me to build a wide range of experience and skills in the NHS and local government. Public health is an exciting, varied and challenging career and I’d recommend it to anyone.