The third report in our future of public health series examines the UK’s policies and approach to health protection including the availability of the specialist resources, knowledge and skills needed to tackle the many diverse and challenging public health threats.
The pandemic exposed critical gaps in the health protection system, including workforce and funding shortages, a lack of surveillance capacity, and fragmented and unclear accountabilities. However, the response resulted in unprecedented government spending and generated some highly innovative solutions. These include, the extraordinary pace of vaccine development and the impressive rollout of the vaccination programme, the rapid adoption of digital and diagnostic technologies and the effective use of data, genomics and science.
While the response to the COVID pandemic has demonstrated the capacity of individuals and organisations to respond and adapt in an emergency. It has also highlighted the inextricable link between health and the environment and the need to prepare for the public health impact of future threats. The NHS has recognised that climate change threatens to undermine years of health gains and that ‘the climate emergency is a health emergency’ with poor environmental health contributing to major diseases, such as cardiac problems, asthma and cancer. It has therefore declared its intention to become the world’s first net zero national health service.
This report examines the changes, complex challenges and suggested solutions affecting health protection at the national and local level.