Swimming against the tide, 19 July 2013

Dave MundayBy Dave Munday, professional officer, Unite the union (in the health sector)

One of the first Unite events I attended a few years ago was as a member of Unite/CPHVA. It was the annual professional conference titled 'Going upstream'. This title has stayed with me since and its relationship to the work that I (and many of our members) do in public health. The concept is that secondary care spends its time jumping in the river to pull out the poor souls who are drowning.

Public health on the other hand is being stationed at the bridge, stopping those people from ever being pushed (or jumping) in. One of the problems (that's very nicely evident from this analogy, @RoyLilley prefers to talk about ambulances at the bottom of a cliff, is that in moving the people from the part of the river where they jump in, to the bridge is really difficult. After all, whilst they're walking up the river bank, people drown.

Public health has a few big stories in the news this and last week. Topical for us because last week a professional officer colleague (and amazing advocate for public health), Ros Godson led on the Unite in Health policy events in Liverpool and London.  

We had a real range of attendees from across the public health spectrum. Ranging from student health visitors to public health consultants via a dental health expert. One of the 'strongest' messages  that I'll take away from the event came from one of the directors or public health and went along the lines of; "there's a difference between citizens having the choice to 'do harm' to themselves and companies being allowed to push people in to doing harm to themselves". This captures at least 3 news stories that have happened in the last few days.

We had;

- the decision to not progress on cigarette plain packaging, with a nice Fact Check from Channel 4

- the swirl of extra reports that the government wouldn't be progressing on the minimum pricing per unit on alcohol

- The 'Leon' review in to school meals that could ban lunch boxes. I missed at the time that the plan may well have been formed over mojitos

- Anna Soubry's comments that the 'guilt aisle' at the check outs might be outlawed

I have to say, I have so little confidence that the second two will be implemented and will go the same way as the first two. Funny that they announce these two measures at the same time as killing off the others.

If you just scratch the surface on the cigarettes u-turn you find such a murky cesspit below, with the Conservative chief election strategist working for a lobbying firm that is working for the pro-smoking lobby.

Going back to my early analogy, our members who work in public health are always swimming against the tide! But I'd argue, it's what our members do best!