Andy Allsopp is Vice Chairman of LG Comms and leads on Public Health for the Executive Committee.
Andrew Lansley’s “national ambition” to reduce the nation’s calorie intake may have been sauce-panned by Jamie Oliver recently, but reducing the burden of obesity-related illness on the NHS and public finances in general is something councils should be taking seriously.
And with the nation seemingly in danger of wasting away without a constant diet of stories telling us all how fat we’re getting, and with councils taking over the responsibility for public heath, we are soon going to be in the firing line.
But I think it’s a huge opportunity. The public health agenda, and issues like obesity, really matter to people. And if councils get the recipe right, there are terrific reputational benefits for those who prioritise the public health agenda. Not least because we’ll be talking about how much money we’ll be saving the nation.
That agenda, as it is shaping up, could be far broader that the stuff we’ve traditionally been consuming through the (often very good) campaigns of recent years.
Last week, in Cambridge, the first meeting of the Cambridgeshire Shadow Health and Wellbeing Board decided priority areas for it to address would include road deaths and domestic violence.
Not traditional public health areas, but a great leap forward in terms of ‘whole system’ thinking across public services.
After all the cost to the tax payer of a single road traffic accident where someone is seriously injured can easily run into six figures. The cost of a fatality, when you take into account the wider economic losses, runs to over £1 million.
So the NHS investing in road safety makes a great deal of financial sense across public services. It’ll save the police and councils and the NHS itself money.
It may mean that traditional public health marketing areas – obesity, smoking, sexual health – may suddenly find themselves placed alongside, or even sidelined by, other priorities set by Health and Wellbeing Boards which have more local relevance.
I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. As marketing and communications teams from councils and the NHS come together under the new public health structures, there’s a great opportunity to utilize the former’s local knowledge to make sure that the messages really land with the intended audiences.
Explaining why it’s a good idea is going to be challenging though. In straightened economic times, people want and expect the basics to be done well, preferably in a no-frills way. Innovation is harder to sell. But it’ll be worth the hard work in the end.