08 May 2019

Caroline Bovey BEM is BDA Chair. 

Today sees the publication of the first ever UK wide public health strategy for Allied Health Professionals (AHP). It outlines how progress will be maintained so that public health and prevention is embedded into the role of all AHPs and they are supported to advocate for and evidence the benefits of upstream interventions within their services.

Dietitians are proud to be AHPs, which are a group of 14 health and care professions that also includes physiotherapists, podiatrists, orthoptists and speech and language therapists to name but a few. Together we cover all clinical specialities and the whole life course and therefore contribute to virtually every public health priority.

The role of dietitians in public health has been the central theme of my time as Chair of the BDA. I wholeheartedly believe that all dietitians, regardless of where they work, are a part of the public health workforce. Their contribution might be the delivery of population-level interventions, or simply Making Every Contact Count in their interaction with patients.

It is really positive that this new strategy takes this forward on a UK wide basis. It has been a collective effort by the Allied Health Professions Federation, of which the BDA is a member, and Public Health bodies in all four UK countries. The BDA has contributed throughout the process of development. The key goals of the new strategy are;

  1. Developing the AHP workforce
  2. Demonstrating impact in public health
  3. Increasing the profile of the AHP public health role
  4. Strategic connections and leadership, and
  5. Improving the health and wellbeing of the health and care workforce

Building on existing good work

This new strategy builds on existing good work in all four UK countries, as AHPs have been a part of the public health picture for some time. This was evidenced in the Impact Report published by the AHP Federation and Public Health England last week which described some of the progress made to position AHPs as an integral part of the wider public health workforce.

The Impact Report has been further supplemented by peer-reviewed case studies which are being hosted on the Royal Society of Public Health website. These aim to highlight some specific examples of how AHPs are making their role in public health a reality. It’s great to see examples from dietitians already included within the list, but they are also looking for more, so I’d urge BDA members to submit their case studies.

Overall, this work and more like it show that there has been clear progress in AHPs involvement in public health. Dietitians and AHPs are better equipped with the knowledge and skills to support improved public health and there is also a growing body of evidence of impact, examples of changing practice and improved strategic connections to enable the best use of AHP expertise in public health.

How else can you take this forward?

If you aren’t sure how to get more involved, there are some great resources you can access which might help you contribute to the aims of the strategy.

  • AHPs4PH is a community of practice for AHPs with an interest in public health has been established to enable AHPs to network, promote development opportunities and share good practice. 
  • The All Our Health Framework is a call to action for all healthcare professionals to play a bigger role in public health and prevention and includes guidance and evidence in a wide range of areas.
  • The Royal Society for Public Health and PHE have published a toolkit which supports AHPs and other health care professionals to record and measure the public health impact of their everyday interactions.

This is just a part of the picture

While the strategy is a very positive development, it is also clear that for it to become a reality, commissioners, ministers, local authorities and others are going to have to prioritise public health and ensure that there are the posts and funding available. The past ten years has been a difficult time for public health, with cuts to services as budgets are squeezed and more immediate acute issues are given priority. The BDA has always said that this is a false economy and hopefully this UK wide strategy will contribute to a reversal of this trend. 

I’ll end on a call to action. Please read the document and let us know what you think, and share your examples and case studies. This strategy will only come to life if dietitians and others AHPs take steps to implement it in their own workplaces. If you face barriers, tell us about them. This strategy is an authority to act to grow the role of AHPs in public health.

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