Perspectives in Public Health: Tackling Inequalities- grassroots and grand ideas

05 July 2018

‘Public health is a broad church; reminder from @gemma_scire of how many of us – whether working with patients, communities, clients or systems such as healthcare, social care or criminal justice, are struggling with the effects of a hostile environment #YPHGrassroots2018 (Renu Bindra)’

‘#YPHGrassroots2018 and it’s not all about communicable diseases (even though those are the things most likely to impact on less hard-pressed communities.) Let’s put as much effort into stopping the contagion of callous disregard as we do TB. Both are public health issues (Jon Beech)’

The above are just two of the tweets sent during the Public Health Registrar’s Annual Conference, which was held on 19th June at the St George’s Centre at Leeds.  The topic was ‘Perspectives in Public Health: Tackling Inequalities- grassroots and grand ideas’  and challenged attendees to consider how much they were doing to reduce entrenched inequalities and provide equitable opportunities for those people who are most vulnerable in our society.  Speakers included Cllr Alison Lowe – a local councillor for one of the most deprived areas in Leeds and the CEO of Touchstone a mental health charity, and Gemma Scire the CEO of Basis , a charity that works with street workers.  The scene was set by Professor Chris Bentley, previously the national lead for the Health Inequalities Team, reminding us of the pernicious influence of long standing, intractable inequalities and the impact it has on people’s life chances.  He challenged us to remember that along with a necessary emphasis on the wider determinants, health care services do have an important part to play in tackling health inequalities and in fact a moral, legal and practical requirement to do so.

Allison Lowe gave a passionate speech describing the challenges faced by BAME communities finishing with a challenge to increase the diversity of the public health workforce.  50% of Touchstone’s staff are from a BAME group which they attribute to why 59% of their service users are BAME.  This led to an interesting debate on how the public health workforce could become more diverse covering recruitment practices and conscious awareness of ‘white privilege’.

Gemma Scire then described some of the work her organisation does with sex workers  pointing out that 74% of them are mothers with resulting adverse effects for their children.  They are a group who are stigmatised and suffer from extremely poor health with 64% using substances and 80% experiencing poor mental health.  Most disturbingly we learnt that 180 women have been murdered between 1990 and 2016 whilst sex working.

Throughout the conference we saw short films made by the public health registrars to showcase their work. These highlighted not only the public health skills of the registrars but also their artistic talents featuring lego models, Star Wars cameos and pensive monologues straight to camera!   The work was thought provoking and showcased the wide variety of talent and skill in the public health registrar cohort.

I have been to many, many registrar annual conferences but this was in my opinion the best so far.  The programme was thoughtful with speakers who were willing to challenge the status quo and attendees who were willing to be challenged.  Little touches like the ‘twitter wall’ showing live tweets throughout the day added to the interest and the sense of hearing many voices not just ‘prevailing wisdom’.  Having a series of short films also meant that we got a sense of the breadth of the registrar’s work rather than just hearing from a select few.  I left the event feeling challenged but also hopeful. I am already looking forward to next year.