Expert Opinion

Using research and education to respond to England’s shifting health profile

Dr James Woodall examines the Public Health England report which shows the changing landscape of health in England.
James Woodall

A report published yesterday by Public Health England which is widely reported in media, shows the changing landscape of health in England.  While there has been huge successes in the health of the country, including increased life expectancy and huge successes in fewer people smoking, persistent challenges remain.  One major challenge facing the health of our nation is that people are living longer but not always experiencing ‘good health’. For example, there is a rise in the death rate for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, this is already the leading cause of death for women and it is likely that in the next few years it will be the leading cause of death for men.  Research is taking place to understand more fully how best to support and care for people with dementia. The Centre for Dementia Research at Leeds Beckett University is spearheading some of this pioneering research activity.

Another worrying trend in the report is the growing inequalities between parts of England.  In 2014 to 2016, the level of inequality, or gap, in life expectancy between the most and least deprived areas of England was 9.3 years for males and 7.3 years for females.  Perhaps more alarmingly, the gap in healthy life expectancy (years lived in good health) between the most and least deprived areas of England was around 19 years for both males and females in 2014 to 2016.  One of the most important challenges for public health is how to tackle inequalities to give people greater control over their health and lives.  Recent research on social prescribing, for instance, undertaken by the Centre for Health Promotion Research at Leeds Beckett, shows how better partnership working between GP services and the voluntary and community sector may enable medical and social views of health come together to provide a more positive experience for individuals and communities.

What the Public Health England report highlights is the necessity to be responsive to emerging and existing public health challenges.  To do this, England requires a workforce and capacity to help people to lead healthier lives and live longer. Public health workers are required to help to protect populations from disease and promote health so that people can go on to live long and healthy lives.  Given that health inequalities have remained in England, and indeed are getting wider, there needs to be a more holistic way of addressing public health that considers the wider factors that impact on people and communities, like education, income and the environment.  At Leeds Beckett University, we have over 40 years of delivering public health and health promotion education and are constantly refining our courses and Postgraduate and Undergraduate levels to meet the shifting health profile in England and beyond.  From September 2019, our new BSc (Hons) Public Health and Society course equips graduates to tackle the health challenges in modern society.  This course is taught by experts who have practised across the world in the public health field and the course includes ‘real like’ work experiences to equip people for the challenging role.

Research and education offer insights into how best to tackle the public health challenges in both England and beyond.  Continued research activity and developing courses and training to develop a workforce equipped for the challenges ahead are paramount in creating healthier citizens.           

Dr James Woodall

Head of Subject / School of Health & Community Studies

Dr James Woodall is a Senior Lecturer and Course Leader for the MSc Public Health - Health Promotion programme. James's research interest is offender health, particularly health promotion in prison settings.

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