Shirley Cramer CBE, Chief Executive of RSPH

​Shirley Cramer CBE, Chief Executive of RSPH, explores the enthusiasm and commitment that exists to taking on a new role in prevention across the professions.

This sounds like the beginning of a second rate joke but in fact I have spent time over the last week thinking about how much these very different professions have in common.

I was fortunate to speak at two important conferences in quick succession, Physiotherapy UK, which is the annual conference of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists, held over two days in lovely Liverpool and the Housing and Health Conference which was held at the Kings Fund in London.

The simple version is that both professions are part of the wider public health workforce and have been identified as ‘early adopters’ (Rethinking the public health workforce) in terms of their support for improving and protecting the public’s health. But what I discovered at their respective conferences is that they have similar high levels of enthusiasm and commitment to taking on a new role in prevention in their work.

It is not often that over worked professionals embrace extra responsibilities with a smile but it is clear that both these groups believe that they are an important part of the transformation needed to prevent ill health and protect vulnerable people.

It is estimated that there are around 250k housing officers and associated staff who support people in over 3 million social housing units in England. They recognise that their clients often have a ‘basket’ of needs and that they are in a position of trust to provide the guidance, and signposting to help keep people well and independent. 

Similarly the 49k physiotherapists are part of the 172k Allied Health Professionals who between them have over 4 million meetings with clients each year as health professionals physiotherapists can provide advice and referrals about a variety of health related issues.

Our research with Public Health England revealed that 85% of the public would be happy to get health advice and support on issues such as weight management, stopping smoking, healthy eating  and cutting down on their drinking from AHP’s. It is a one stop shop!

Both those working in housing and physiotherapy believe that they should embrace preventive strategies and recognise the need to support the whole person. What they want is to be given ‘permission’ to provide the advice and guidance needed and the confidence to have a ‘healthy conversation’ with their clients.

Accessing appropriate training and giving professional recognition about their role in improving the public’s health should be easy to provide and across the country we will then begin to create the kind of energised, skilled workforce that has as one of their priorities, prevention.

Imagine if just some of the 15 million people in employment now and highlighted in the CfWI / RSPH report, Understanding the wider workforce, as having the ‘ability and opportunity to make a difference in the public’s health’ were deployed? It could mean change on an industrial scale.

Dr Phil Hammond, writer, comedian and physician probably said it best in his plenary session at Physiotherapy UK that 70% of our health is down to the way we live our lives and that we should all ‘pledge to pleasure ourselves in a safe and sustainable way’.

He told us that we should connect with other people and that is certainly something that housing officers and physiotherapists have in common, the ability to communicate effectively with people in a variety of settings. They are part of the new public health workforce and we certainly welcome them.