Whenever I hear the words “public health” a little thought bubble automatically inflates itself just above my head.
The same Dickensian images of London come flooding through: the greeny-grey miasma over an open sewer (or could that be the Thames?), the public water pump thronged by urchins with the pox, and noble-looking ladies coughing blood into their scented hankies.
But a string of Public Health Acts and the work of people like Pasteur and John Snow mean all that’s history, right? Wrong. Let’s replace the steel-engraved images of 19th-century Britain with the 3D of today.
While we’ve done marvellously well to conquer, or contain, the likes of cholera, tuberculosis and typhus – other epidemics continue to lurk.
After all, public health doesn’t just concern itself with the quality of the air we breathe or the water we drink. Nor does it just extend to the threat of communicable diseases like “swine flu”.
The fact is that the health of our nation continues to be seriously compromised by an ongoing outbreak of accidents:
Did you know?
- Accidents are the principal cause of death up to the age of 39 in the UK
- Accidental injury continues to be the main cause of death for children after infancy
- Accidents diminish the lives of nearly a third of people in England
- In 2009, one death in 40 in England and Wales was caused by an accident. Roughly three times as many people suffer a serious, life-changing injury as are killed
- Accident prevention is, compared to other potential public health interventions, easy to implement and inexpensive to deliver
- The return on accident prevention investment, measured in Quality Adjusted Life Years, outstrips every other potential public health intervention.
Since we launched our public health campaign in March, we’ve worked very hard to win the ear of the UK’s top decision-makers. As part of this endeavour, we submitted a robust case to the Health Committee’s Public Health Inquiry.
If you have a minute, you can view RoSPA’s submission to the Health Committee’s Public Health Inquiry by clicking on the link.
More recently, Andrew Lansley, the Secretary of State for Health, made an amendment to his Healthy Lives Healthy People White Paper – which attempts to outline the future of UK public health. This update includes “accidental injury prevention” in its list of priorities. Hurray! The full document can be viewed online.
But it isn’t yet time to pass round the cigars. More work is needed to convince central and local government that truly effective accident prevention needs boots on the ground and strategies pinned to the board.
Though there’ve been some breathtaking advances in science since Charles Dickens’ time, there’s one piece of ancient wisdom that even the most powerful medicine will never make redundant: prevention is better (and cheaper) than cure.
If you agree, you can do your bit to aid our campaign by clicking the big, red “Support Our Campaign” button on our campaigns website.
Health and happiness to you all!
Michael Corley, RoSPA’s campaigns manager