Louise flies the flag for public health

This story was published 9 June 2021

Louise Wallace, who has been appointed permanently as North Yorkshire’s Director of Public Health (DPH), is on a mission.

Louise Wallace

For Louise, the first woman to take up the appointment for local government in the county, the role is about levelling up, advocating for the health of the entire population and showing that health and wealth are inter-related.

She said: “Public health is about fairness; making sure all children get the best start in life; living well; ageing well and dying well. It is about life chances and maximising potential by challenging inequality and supporting individuals and communities, as well as businesses and public services, to improve health and well-being.”

She believes the role is now more critical than ever as we come out of lockdown and that there is a huge job to do in re-energising the population and focusing on physical and mental well-being.

Few Directors of Public Health can have come into the job at a more challenging time. Louise became interim director at the height of the pandemic late last year and acknowledges it was a baptism of fire.

She was already a key member of North Yorkshire County Council’s Covid-19 response team and had played a significant role on issues such as testing, PPE and care sector training and support.

Responding to changing Covid-19 infection rates, dealing with major outbreaks, working to support the NHS with the vaccine roll-out and leading on critical public health messaging has been all-consuming.

She accepts that the challenge she, along with public health leads nationally, have faced is unparalleled in recent history.  The demands of supporting and protecting the health of the population, taking every step to control the virus and get infection rates down, while also supporting business to operate in a Covid-safe way to keep the economy going, have been great.

Nevertheless, she relishes the opportunities the job presents to make a difference.

Although she came to North Yorkshire as Assistant Director for Health and Integration, playing a crucial role in developing pioneering partnership working with the NHS, it is not the first time she has been a Director of Public Health. She held the post for five years in Hartlepool up until 2017 where her priorities were tackling health inequalities and significant health issues in the area.

She will continue with her Health and Integration responsibilities, as part of the DPH role, and being very much a team player she believes the promotion of health and well-being across North Yorkshire’s communities is about the work of the whole council, as well as other organisations and everyone who lives in the County.

She said: “Clearly, making sure we have a robust and resilient response to Covid, whatever it may bring in the future, and protecting the health of the people of North Yorkshire, must be a priority.

“As we look forward there are other priorities for us as a County and there is much we can do to support people to improve their own health.

“For example, we have all come to value open spaces and fresh air and exercise during lockdown and Public Health has helped to support that through our Discoveries on Your Doorstep scheme. Through this scheme, we work with partners to encourage people to use public rights of way and planned walking routes in their local area. It has been operating in Scarborough and Selby and is now being rolled out across the county.

“Quality of life is all-important and in Public Health we can make use of all the great natural assets across our beautiful County.

“Indeed the close locality working with partners in the NHS, district councils, businesses, emergency responder services, volunteers and voluntary organisations and others to keep down Covid infection rates and support emotional well-being during the pandemic, will provide a strong base for supporting healthy lives as we come out of the Covid crisis.

“We have some critical programmes to take forward with such as our revised 0-19 Healthy ChildService, our Healthy Weight Healthy Lives programme and our Public Health-funded Stronger Communities team and all the innovative work it undertakes with local people to help communities support each other.

“And we need to re-double our efforts on the gaps that still exist. Some people in the County only enjoy 50 years of healthy life before long-term illness impacts on them; whereas for others, healthy life continues well into their 70s. Covid is likely to have exacerbated this situation. Likewise, as the North Yorkshire Rural Commission is highlighting, rural and coastal areas experience inequalities and barriers: these just look different to high density, urban areas.

“We are still in the pandemic, but there is such great work to build on to improve the health of all. It’s a delight and a privilege to take up this role at this time for our county.”

Cllr Caroline Dickinson, North Yorkshire’s Executive Member for Public Health said: “We welcome and congratulate Louise on her permanent appointment. There could not be a more critical time to take up the post of Director of Public Health -  we know Louise will bring all her skills and knowledge and experience to bear on the task in hand.

“Her background in health integration and effective working with NHS partners will be crucial in the time ahead and her strong ethic as a team player will mean she will draw on the strengths of all our colleagues and partners to support and improve the well-being of our communities.”