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More than a Coronavirus response; why population health should always be high on the agenda

Published: 17 May 2022

Mark Bellis, Director of Policy and International Health, WHO Collaborating Centre on Investment for Health & Wellbeing at Public Health Wales, explains why studying wider population health is always essential to minimising health inequalities and improving people’s health and wellbeing, and even more so when faced with a global pandemic. 

“Over the past two-years, Public Health Wales has played a critical part in the control of Coronavirus. Our expertise has influenced the identification of infection, underpinned advice on self-protection and informed the necessary restrictions put in place across Wales in order to minimise the spread of the virus. However, even in the early stages of pandemic it was clear that such dramatic changes to people’s live would have profound repercussions for their immediate and long term mental and physical health.  

“We required new information on how people were coping with greater isolation, restrictions on their movements and less access to services. We needed to understand how other countries were coping with new ways of living and working, learn from them and help them learn from us. Further, although the pandemic was the predominant concern for people and public health professionals, we still needed to ensure that other existing and potential threats to people’s health were monitored, assessed, and addressed as the pandemic progressed.  

“In order to meet many of these challenges, Public Health Wales established the Population Health Group (PHG), pulling individuals together from across the whole organisation in order to consider and help address the broader harms arising from or continuing through the pandemic. With a little funding and a lot of good will and enthusiasm, the group and the staff they represent have undertaken critical work to influence how we and others protect and promote broader health throughout the pandemic. As pandemic restrictions recede, and the attention of our whole organisation moves back to population health and inequalities, here we have pulled together a record of some of the accomplishment of PHG.  

“In the last two years’, the group have produced and published more than 80 reports, with subjects including but not limited to:  

  • Trade 
  • Employment and fair work 
  • Public perceptions, attitudes and behaviours to Coronavirus and its restrictions 
  • Wellbeing challenges 
  • Home and agile working 
  • Climate change  
  • Domestic violence and abuse  
  • Adverse childhood experiences 
  • Carers 
  • Basic Income 
  • Vulnerability  
  • Health impacts of policy decisions 
  • International horizon scanning of Coronavirus measures 
  • Education 
  • Inequalities 
  • Future trends 
  • The triple challenge of climate change, Coronavirus and Brexit 
  • Vaccine hesitancy 
  • Household energy 
  • Planning healthy spaces 
  • Decarbonisation 

“I have had the pleasure of chairing this group through the pandemic and would like to thank my vice-chairs (Tracy Black and Sally Attwood), all members of the group and the wide range of staff across Public Health Wales who have contributed their work and dedication throughout. Thanks is also due to the Executive and Board for recognising the need to address broader health issues during the pandemic and creating the resource and space to make this possible. I hope that we are not faced with another crisis like Coronavirus for many, many years. However, should another pandemic emerge, I hope the learning from the Population Health Group means that we are well prepared for many of the inevitable challenges it will present to public health in Wales.”