Government ‘must acknowledge health contributes to nation’s potential’

Research published by the New Local Government Network (NLGN) calls for public health to be more fully recognised as an economic asset that boosts workforce productivity, and says that although the Industrial Strategy White Paper recognises the role of people as a key driver of productivity, it largely ignores the role of public health - a missed opportunity if we want our workforce to be fit for the future.

The research found that, while public health teams have integrated well with people-focused services in local authorities, there are weaker connections with economic development teams and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs). The new Local Industrial Strategies now planned need to incorporate a much clearer focus on public health as a driver of workforce productivity.

As only 12.8 per cent of senior public health officers felt they were very engaged with economic development teams, there is clearly a lot of potential for closer working, which would lead to a healthier and more productive workforce.

To improve their effectiveness, the research recommends that central government should invest £65 million2 into Health and Well-being Boards. This money could be used to support a 5-year ‘upstream’ prevention programme, which could fund pilots within their area that address the wider determinants of health. It could be used to secure dedicated staff to engage with stakeholders where relationships could be strengthened.

The report makes additional recommendations, including: central government should amend legislation to clarify that ‘all local public services must have regard to the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA) and Joint Health and Well-being Strategy in their area’; NHS England should produce guidance that requires Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships to engage with Health and Well-being Boards on the wider determinants of health; local authorities should take part in peer-led training and development initiatives for public health teams on influencing and communication skills, facilitated by national bodies; public health teams should develop ‘health champions’ across local services; and local authorities should work more closely with bodies such as Public Health England to develop approaches to evidencing the business case for investing in public health over the long term.

Lucy Terry, lead report author and senior researcher at NLGN, said: “Our research found plenty of evidence that public health teams had made substantial inroads in addressing the wider determinants of health through their strong relationships with areas like social care – and this is a positive step forward.

“But several years on from the transfer, there needs to be stronger relationships between public health and economic development for productive growth.”

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