Cath reflects on NHS Health Scotland's contribution to public health.
2020 is going to be an important year for public health in Scotland. The new national agency – Public Health Scotland – comes into being on 1 April and for the first time Scotland will have unified national leadership across all areas of public health. This leadership is required now more than ever as the people of Scotland are facing unprecedented challenges to their health. Many people are trying to survive on low incomes and in precarious employment. Social security has been reduced and it’s more difficult now for people to get – and retain – the financial support they need. Climate change is threatening the conditions that support health and austerity is putting the public services we rely on at risk. Life expectancy, which is a good marker of how well a society is doing, stalled in Scotland seven years ago. More of us are now dying in our 30s, 40s and 50s than in the past and with increased inequality, life expectancy in our poorest areas is actually decreasing. Put simply, people are not enjoying their right to the highest attainable standard of health.
This is the biggest public health challenge that Scotland has faced for many decades. NHS Health Scotland will pass the national remit for improving health and reducing health inequalities to the new national agency. Speaking as a member of the Board of NHS Health Scotland and its Director of Strategy for 12 years, I can say that the new body is something I am excited and optimistic about. I believe that Public Health Scotland has the potential to make a real difference to the health of the Scottish people.
Over the 17 years that NHS Health Scotland has been in operation as Scotland’s health improvement agency we have learnt a lot. While our focus is very much on the future, we want to make sure that the best of what we have done carries over to Public Health Scotland. As part of this we have shared a report called ‘Building our Future’, which describes how health improvement has developed in Scotland over the last 17 years through the lens of three key areas of work; alcohol, place and early years. The report also describes how over that time the agenda of health inequalities, equality and human rights became increasingly important to our work. But over and above all that, it tells the story of how collaboration is the cornerstone of effective public health work. Of course, collaboration is a word we hear often and few would argue against its merits. However, it has meant something particular and important for us over our time. Public health is by definition about the “organised efforts of society”. This means it’s a shared concern across civil society and well beyond the health service. And it’s organisations like those within the ALLIANCE membership whose work impacts on the social determinants of health – family income, community, housing, childhood experiences and so forth – that will make a real difference in the long run.
It is therefore encouraging that collaboration has a central position in Public Health Scotland as one of the five values along with respect, integrity, innovation and excellence. I am also pleased that extended partnership – across civil society, local government and national government – is recognised as a key driver for the new body. With that, I am confident that Public Health Scotland will continue to value collaboration with a wide range of stakeholders in the way that we have across our 17 year tenure. We are certainly very clear that we could not have done what we did on our own.
Finally, as I look forward to what 2020 brings, I personally and as a spokesperson for NHS Health Scotland look back on our work with the ALLIANCE as one our strongest and most significant collaborators over the years. I encourage you all to work with Public Health Scotland when it comes into being in April and together drive forward the improvements in public health that we need now more than ever.