Fire fighters, hairdressers, postal workers and other occupations could all support efforts to improve the public’s health, according to plans outlined by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) in a new report.

The ‘Rethinking the Public Health Workforce’ report says that with only 40,000 people estimated to be core public health workers and in light of the “crisis” in lifestyle health issues, anyone who has “the opportunity or ability to positively impact health and wellbeing through their work” should join the wider public health workforce. 

This includes allied health professionals (AHPs) such as physiotherapists and podiatrists, welfare and housing professionals, protective service workers such as fire service, police and ambulance, and pharmacists.

The authors point out that many of these occupations have regular contact with the public – the fire service undertakes around 670,000 safe and well checks each year, AHPs see over 4 million patients every week and 95% of the public visit a pharmacy at least once a year.

"Golden opportunities"

But the report also identifies a new selection of occupations who could support public health efforts. This includes hairdressers, kitchen, bar and waitering staff, public service and associate professionals such as postal workers, and cleaners.

“Many of these occupations enjoy trusted relationships with the public and have golden opportunities to reinforce and support conversations about lifestyle health issues in a sensitive and non-judgemental fashion,” explains Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the RSPH.

The RSPH says that the wider workforce could support wider public health through activities including point of care testing – such as blood pressure or BMI – behaviour change programmes, or screening the public for lifestyle health conditions such as inactivity, low level anxiety or social isolation.

Sandra Gidley, chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society English Pharmacy Board, adds: “Pharmacy is at the forefront of making every contact count when it comes to improving the public’s health. Pharmacists work alongside fellow medical and nursing health professionals as an active part of NHS delivery of public health.

“The results of a national evaluation of ‘healthy living pharmacies’, where pharmacists and their teams focus on health improvement as part of a structured offer to the public, showed marked success in chlamydia screening and quitting smoking. We would urge local authorities to follow this evidence trail and back a full roll out of healthy living pharmacies in their locality.”

The joint research was commissioned by the Department of Health, Public Health England and Health Education England and produced by the Centre for Workforce Intelligence (CfWI) and the RSP.