Director of Public Health report sets out the long-term challenges of Covid

This story was published 7 December 2021

Few Directors of Public Health can have experienced a first year in post like Louise Wallace.

Louise Wallace

In her first Annual Report as North Yorkshire’s Director of Public Health, Louise describes it as a year like no other - “the biggest public health challenge in living memory.”

She pays tribute to the people who live and work in the county and her report, ‘Making Sense of Covid-19’, which is published today, is an account of how they have faced and responded to the pandemic.

She stated: “Some of it will be very familiar, especially for the many thousands of people who were ill with Covid-19 and the families, friends and colleagues of the more than 1300 people lost to Covid-19 in North Yorkshire alone. We will remember them.”

She describes how Public Health was supported in its mission to protect the health of the population by an army of volunteers and the many community organisations who gave their time and energy to support people who were isolated and made vulnerable by the pandemic.

“What stands out most for me are the amazing acts of kindness that people across the whole of North Yorkshire have shown to each other. Communities rallied around for each other and stood strong. Our NHS colleagues were rightly lauded but right across the health and social care system, colleagues gave everything and more to keep people safe and connected.”

That strong sense of community and collaboration and the Team North Yorkshire approach to battling against Covid, was recently praised in an independently conducted external review of North Yorkshire County Council’s joint working with partners.

Louise said: “I wish to thank the people of North Yorkshire for the care, compassion and community spirit they have shown to each other throughout this time.”

In her report she details how the North Yorkshire Public Health team worked with agencies and partners across the county to deliver effective outbreak management and testing and prepared the population for mass vaccination. That work continues.

Louise Wallace has developed extensive professional expertise in health and social care integration and came to North Yorkshire from Hartlepool where she was the town’s first Director of Public Health.  Tackling health inequalities has always been one of her priorities and remains a key challenge across the county.

In general, health in North Yorkshire is good, with most indicators above the England average.

However, there is substantial inequality in life expectancy in North Yorkshire. Women and men live 4.8 and 6.9 years longer respectively in the least deprived areas compared with those in the most deprived areas.

“Addressing this inequality, whilst improving outcomes for all,” said Louise, “remains one of the key challenges for improving health in North Yorkshire. This will be particularly important given the impact of Covid on health and life expectancy.”

Despite the challenges of Covid, Public Health has maintained crucial services such as the service to help people stop smoking; drug and alcohol services; adult weight management; helping people keep physically active and Living Well -  a highly successful scheme that reconnects people to social and community networks to promote independence after a bout of physical or mental ill-health or following a bereavement.

North Yorkshire has continued with the delivery of the healthy child programme and along with district councils established the £2.5m North Yorkshire Warm Homes Fund to tackle fuel poverty. 

Public Health also established REACH (Reducing Exclusion for Adults with Complex Housing needs). This is a three-year partnership project between Scarborough Borough Council, County Council Health and Adult Services, Tees Esk and Wear Valley (TEWV) NHS Foundation Trust and Beyond Housing to take forward a Housing First approach.

The aim is to provide dedicated units and intensive community support to people who are currently homeless or likely to be made homeless due to a range of social and long-term health needs.

Public Health also maintained the county-wide Stronger Communities programme which played such a crucial role coordinating community support organizations of volunteers to connect with and provide a safety net for isolated people and those made vulnerable during the pandemic.

“Few years can have been more challenging,” said County Councillor Andrew Lee, North Yorkshire’s Executive Member for Public Health, “but we have been fortunate to have Louise and her team at the helm and their remarkable work over the past 18 months. Their knowledge, experience and professionalism has made a huge contribution to our response to Covid.

The annual report has also set priorities for the year ahead:

  • Continue to reduce health inequalities
  • Continue with measures to protect the health of the whole population
  • Improve mental health and wellbeing across the whole population
  • Ensure babies, children and young people get the best start in life
  • Continue to work with NHS partners to maximise joint effectiveness and impact on health outcomes
  • Ensure the working age population have opportunities to live well
  • Ensure the older age population can age well
  • Develop a centre for public health excellence to promote research, training and behavioural science.

Louise said: “It is clear that we will need to continue to respond to Covid-19 in our immediate future and together we will find a way to learn to live with the virus.

“But my hope is that we will build on what we have learnt during this time and that we focus on recovery, as jobs and the economy as well as education and the homes and communities we live in, have a crucial role to play in being healthy and well.”