Blog by Professor Kevin Fenton, London Regional Director of Public Health, Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID)
The public health system in London has undergone major transformation since the start of the pandemic. The lessons we have learnt suggest we need to be agile and well positioned to make meaningful improvements to the lives of Londoners, especially the most vulnerable.
As well as seeing the creation of new organisations dedicated to public health, the last two years have united and strengthened the public health sector, through increased collaboration and new ways of working that were a direct result of our response to the immense challenges of the pandemic.
However, it’s clear that we are now operating in a different context to two years ago, and we are emerging from the pandemic with widening inequalities, and many people are living with poorer health. Both nationally and globally, COVID-19 has highlighted the economic, societal, and personal costs of ill-health and exposed the stark and longstanding health inequalities that exist in our society.
The circumstances in which we are born, grow, work and age are fundamental. Action on health inequalities must urgently seek to address this, by focusing on improving health outcomes directly, in addition to tackling the so-called wider determinants of health or ‘causes of the causes’ including poverty, housing, education, employment, social cohesion and discrimination, and environment.
I lead London’s Regional Office in the Office of Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID), which was established in 2021 within the Department of Health and Social Care, to bring a focus across government to deliver action on the prevention of ill health and reduction in health inequalities. OHID facilitates more joined-up, sustained actions between national, local government and the NHS, to improve and level up the public’s health, from the first months of life onwards.
In OHID London we work closely with the UK Health Security Agency, the national government body focused on health protection and security, as well as local government, the Greater London Authority (GLA) and the NHS, to coordinate and drive forward public health initiatives with local to national reach.
As statutory adviser to the Mayor, Assembly and GLA Group I warmly welcome the recent creation of a GLA Group Public Health Unit and the GLA Group Director of Public Health role that will be delivered by my Deputy, Vicky Hobart. The Unit is hosted by the GLA but also serving the wider GLA Group of organisations, including the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, and within that the Violence Reduction Unit; Transport for London; the London Fire Commissioner; and Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation.
Based in the Communities and Skills Directorate led by Tunde Olayinka, this new unit will strengthen capacity and collaboration on public health across and within the GLA Group. It will serve as an important channel to integrate the work of these organisations within the wider public health system in London, as we work together towards our shared ambition to make London the world’s healthiest global city.
As we look forward and begin to learn to live with COVID, we cannot undo the damage it has done to our communities or bring back the people we have lost. We now have an important role to mitigate the long-term effects of the pandemic, especially on those who are most vulnerable and were worst impacted. We can also plan and prepare well, to ensure we are better protected from the pandemics and crises of the future.
Professor Kevin Fenton