This will be my last blog as the Chief Executive of the Royal Society for Public Health and it’s fair to say that when I wrote, over six months ago, to tell colleagues that I would be leaving after seven years, I did not think that my last few weeks in the role would be spent in my home office, watching spring arrive through the window and becoming efficient at remote working. Life can always surprise you and also make you sad.
Leaving at this surreal time is not what I or my colleagues could have predicted, but we have all had to get used to a ‘new normal’ which has separated us from friends, family, work colleagues and our daily routines. As we sink into the seventh week of the pandemic with not much relief in sight and an ever growing sense of the enormity of this global public health emergency, alongside the UK’s tragic death rate, it is sensible to ask: How did it come to this? I suspect there will be millions of academic research papers, articles, inquiries and acres of newspaper columns before we have anything like the full picture.
But there are some aspects of this pandemic that are irrefutable and were predictable, specifically that the poorer and more disadvantaged you are, the more likely you are to die of Covid-19. We know that our black and ethnic minority communities are dying in greater numbers, and that the social determinants of health have the same unfair effects in a pandemic as in every other aspect of life. The Prime Minister has told us that we are ‘all in it together’ but this is blatantly not the case, with the most vulnerable (particularly those in care homes) and the poorest first in the firing line. I hope that tackling health inequalities and deprivation, with a true commitment to ‘levelling up’, becomes the new reality post Covid-19.
Another indisputable truth is that the lack of investment in public health and the public sector overall throughout the last decade has meant that the UK was not as equipped as it should have been, as the world’s fifth largest economy, to cope with a pandemic. Our emergency preparedness, our physical stocks of equipment, and materials were lacking when they mattered. Our health and care workers, delivery drivers, waste collectors, supermarket workers and many, many other key workers have risen to the occasion, as have the general population by staying home and saving lives. I am heartened by the fact that at least for now the UK public values lives over the economy, and that in the long term our priorities as a country may reflect those values we have shown in the last few weeks. I hope that the active enthusiasm for volunteering and helping others remains long after the lockdown is a distant memory.
I have been very privileged to lead RSPH and am really proud of our work. I am very fortunate to have worked with such a committed and inspiring group of trustees, along with the executive, and we have truly felt like a team. I have enjoyed working with a wide range of organizations, partners and individuals and have learned so much from them over the last 7 years. I have been surrounded by so many wonderful, talented and hardworking colleagues both past and present, and I will miss their wit and wisdom. I want to thank every one of them for so many very happy memories and their friendship.