The Story So Far

After almost 40 years in the NHS, Public Health is moving back to local government. One of the inevitable questions about the impact of Public Health during this 40 year period is whether the public’s health has improved and, if so, in what ways?

In undertaking this look-back we have consulted the Sheffield Director of Public Health reports that were published just prior to the move into the NHS. The 1972 and 1973 reports of Dr Clifford Shaw (‘Medical Officer of Health for Sheffield’) make interesting reading – not least because many of the issues he discussed, such as birth rates, causes of death, health improvements and health inequalities, feature on our current list of Public Health priorities for the City.

Perhaps of greater interest is that Dr Shaw also reported on work in relation to the social determinants of health. For example, in reference to the clean air operation in Sheffield, he noted that:

“Many problems remain to be solved, particularly in the industrial east end, and we have yet to enjoy the full benefits of the Authority’s far-sighted policy. Too many householders are tempted to burn coal and all public health inspectors have an important, although unspectacular, part to play in policing their district”
Annual Report on the Health of the City of Sheffield 1972

There are also references to food hygiene and inspection of premises, including hours of opening and working hours in shops and housing ‘clearances’. As it turned out the latter was a problem that was ‘rather larger than we believed’. It is this integration of the medical and social aspects of health that appears so striking and which forms the theme for the final chapter of this report (‘Future Opportunities and Challenges’) where we look forward to the next 40 years.