Shirley Cramer CBE, Chief Executive of RSPH

Shirley Cramer CBE, Chief Executive of RSPH, spends a day with Kate Ardern, Director of Public Health, in Wigan.

Setting out at 6:30am on Friday morning in London in the pouring rain was a little gloomy but a two hour train journey later and I had arrived in a sun drenched Wigan. My spirits along with the clouds had definitely lifted with the prospect of spending the day with the inspirational Director of Public Health, Kate Ardern.

Kate is well known in public health circles for her energy, positive attitude and her ability to get things done. She is a real change agent with an ambitious vision for improving the health of the 318k population of Wigan. One reason for my visit was to see the approach of Kate and her team in mainstreaming public health.

As I discovered, this is done by influencing others to not only engage with public health but also to ‘own it’ as part of their activity and mission. This was made really clear when I met with the charismatic Steve Sheridan, Borough Commander of the Fire Service in Wigan and a proponent for his service’s role in public health.

Steve and his 170 fire fighters have taken the RSPH qualification Understanding Health Improvement and other relevant courses and have devised innovative ways of providing health messages, signposting and support.

With more than 7,000 fire safety home visits a year, regular visits to schools, care homes and sports facilities, they are in a great position to have access to and  work with, those most in need.

Steve sees his role and those of his fire fighters as frontline public health workers and as the chair of Wigan’s Youth Forum he is also at the forefront of understanding and responding to the needs of young people.

Similarly the elected members of Wigan Council are enthusiastic proponents of a broad view of public health and they have championed the integration of public health into all aspects of the Council’s work, so that Housing, Education, Children, Adult and Leisure Services all play a role in improving health and working with the public health team.

Given this approach to improving health it was no surprise to find out that 54 of the 70 pharmacies in Wigan are Healthy Living Pharmacies and that over 1,000 local people have been trained as Health Champions.

The team in Wigan support the champions by providing a regular newsletter to keep everyone update and also offer additional training opportunities. Everyone I met in Wigan has a ‘can do’ attitude and they are a hot bed of new ideas and pilot programmes.

They have just launched the first Healthy Living Dentistry programme with the first tranche of dentist practices trained in Understanding Health Improvement. As with the pharmacy programme it is an an accreditation model managed and quality assured using self assessment which is reviewed by Wigan’s Health Improvement Team.

Kate has invited me back to Wigan and I intend to return very soon as there is much more to learn and I feel I might have just seen the tip of the iceberg in terms of good practice.