Overcoming Environmental Health ‘invisibility’

I published a short piece in Environmental Health News yesterday, and have permission to reproduce it here for EHRNet followers. You can access the original article at http://www.ehn-online.com/news/article.aspx?id=12100

Eight lessons from the public health reforms

Over the past few years, I have found that in many areas environmental health is not well understood by our public health colleagues. Indeed, it is often ‘invisible’. Here are eight ideas from my research with EHPs and others for overcoming this ‘invisibility’.

1. Evaluate your work

Most importantly, evaluate your work as part of the day job (this does not have to be quantitatively, you can be creative with your methods) and ensure that you have the evidence to make the case for funding your service in public health terms, i.e. not by numbers of inspections, but on what your activities deliver as outcomes such as addressing fuel poverty or helping to tackle health inequalities. It seems a dangerous strategy to rely on statutory functions, and environmental health has such a lot to offer beyond these boundaries.

2. Share your findings

Share the findings of your evaluations, including interesting case studies and research projects. This will help to grow the evidence base for environmental health. Also, make use of the evidence produced by others – there is probably more than you think out there. See Dr Jill Stewart’s FREE edited ‘Effective Strategies and Interventions: environmental health and the private housing sector’ for example http://www.cieh.org/policy/default.aspx?id=46518 which is part of the Private Sector Housing Evidence Base available via MyCIEH. How about doing something similar in your area of expertise?

3. Use EHRNet

The Environmental Health Research Network (EHRNet), of which I am one of the founder members, has published an ebook ‘Evidence, research and publication: a guide for environmental health professionals’ to assist colleagues. It is available via this link to our website and currently costs 99p which goes towards our expenses. The website also has lots of other resources and a blog which will hopefully be of interest.

4. Marmot is your friend

The Marmot Review on public health is your friend – many of his objectives fit well with environmental health work and I found that almost all the Health and Wellbeing Boards I looked at had adopted them in one form or another as priorities. Linking with these priorities and promoting the role of environmental health in tackling health inequalities should help to make the case for funding your service.

5. Make friends with public health directors

Make friends with your local public health directors and consultants, especially now they are based within local authorities. They will be much more supportive if they understand what you do.

 6. Communicate with councillors

Don’t assume that the elected members representing you on Health and Wellbeing Boards know what you can offer either, especially if they are from a neighbouring authority and you have never met. Establish good two-way lines of communication with your representatives. This appears to be a particularly key issue in two-tier systems and in large unitary authorities, where functions can be ‘siloed’.

7. GPs don’t know your work

You can be fairly certain that most GPs won’t know what you do beyond food safety. There are opportunities here. When people do know and understand what you can offer, they will usually be amazed and very supportive and welcome the additional input.

8. Research is a priority

Finally, serious investment in high quality environmental health research is a priority. I know you’re thinking, she would say that, but it’s true!

Best wishes,
Surindar

 

With thanks to Dr Anna Coleman, Rob Couch and Dr Jill Stewart for their comments on this piece.

This research was carried out at the University of Manchester.

 

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