Shirley Cramer CBE, Chief Executive of RSPH

Shirley Cramer CBE, Chief Executive of RSPH, reflects on the focus on health and wellbeing at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

I was pleased to see that the subject of health and wellbeing is having a ‘moment’ at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week. This annual talk-fest in Switzerland which includes business leaders, politicians, academics and entrepreneurs usually looks at global trends and emerging issues so it is heartening to hear diverse individuals talking about issues key to improving the public’s health.

Company leaders referred to youth unemployment as a ‘real danger’ to the fabric of the world and Dr Judith Rodin, President of the Rockefeller Foundation talked about unemployment in young people undermining their resilience. This is certainly the finding of this year’s Princes Trust Youth Index , of which we were a proud partner.

The annual survey of young people reported that long term unemployed young people are more than twice as likely as their peers to have contemplated suicide while one in four have self harmed.

Our view, that long term youth unemployment is a public health issue, was picked up in the vast majority of media coverage age including the BBC News and this was very encouraging to see. I am hoping that this increasing profile for the plight of young people will help increase mental health support as well as employment.

Another public health issue in the spotlight at Davos is the importance of wellbeing. Dr Richard J Davidson, Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin said that CEO’s and corporations are increasingly paying attention to the wellbeing and happiness of their employees.

He said that wellbeing is a skill that can be learned and that we need a shift in our culture to ensure wellbeing is considered on a par with health. Certainly at RSPH we expect that in the UK more attention will be paid to preventing ill health than we have seen in previous years.

It was not only at Davos that the importance of staff wellbeing was discussed this week. The Staff Care Report which was published by the Point of Care Foundation, looked at staff engagement in the NHS and concluded that not enough is being done to encourage and foster engagement. It reported the worrying statistic that only 55% of staff would recommend their organisation as a place to work.

Steve Boorman who is Chief Medical Adviser at Capita and RSPH Professorial Fellow, said that while good practice does exist, and is highlighted in the report, there are inconsistencies which are evident in the association between staff satisfaction and patient outcomes. He also comments on the finding that managers frequently think initiatives to care for staff are too costly.

We know there is a case for long term investment in health and simple but effective measures are often very inexpensive so should all be making this a priority. Improving health and wellbeing at work is not only good for the individual but also improves productivity.

I hope that 2014 has begun well for everyone and at RSPH we will be working hard through all our programmes to provide the best information , conferences, qualifications, networking opportunities and training to make it a healthy and happy year.