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​​​​Sarah Corlett's public health view

Tell us about your role
I lead the public health team, based at Lambeth Council, that provides strategic advice and support to the CCG on how to use their scarce resource to best improve the health and wellbeing of the population and reduce health inequalities. What is the need? Is what we are doing/ commissioning actually working? Is it the best thing to do with the money available? ​

What are the big challenges you (and your team if appropriate) face at the moment? 
Strategically we have the historic challenges of Lambeth’s health and wellbeing; our raison d’etre, and currently the dire state of the public purse and its horrible and continuing impact on the people in most difficulty. Our passion is to see everyone in Lambeth have the right life chances, be healthy and fulfil their potential.  We believe the way we work - our skills and knowledge – means we have an enormous amount to offer colleagues to achieve this goal.  Sometimes however other priorities and general franticness make it difficult for people to think and act differently, but to survive the future well and minimise the negative impact of austerity and cuts, the only way is to take a public health approach.
Operationally we have just moved from being a joint Lambeth & Southwark team to a Lambeth based team. The team is trying to fly the plane while it’s still only partly constructed. People are working their socks off but we have a number of vacancies for which we may not be able to recruit due to the cuts. Prioritising accordingly is really tough and needs everyone in the system to engage on what’s important. 

If you could change one thing about the health service what would it be? 
I’ve got several suggestions!
  • All clinical and managerial staff should have a grounding in public health – specialists are spread too thin and everyone ought to operate from a population health frame of reference as a matter of course.  It would make our job easier, more effective and more rewarding
  • Wherever the NHS wants to invest in new, different or expanded treatment options there should be 10% to be held back to invest in evidence based prevention. There are a lot of fine words about prevention at the moment but not much strategic thinking or practical action.  All the STP talk is about demand management which might contain the situation for 2-3 years but without turning off the tap the bath will still overflow and wreck the house
  • ​Integrate – stop this ridiculous false barrier between health and social care.

What is the one thing that you have learnt in the last year that has surprised you and why? 
Being in this interim position has been an eye opener. The PH team is an amazing bunch of people but we hide our light under a very big bushel, as if we hardly believe the gold dust of public health ourselves! Most people have been brilliantly supportive of us and more than ready to work with us and see what we can do together. Others are incomprehensibly defensive. Realising that the latter is probably their own stuff,  and being humble about one’s own shortcomings, is a constant lesson in my life.  
What are you most proud of in your working life? 
That’s a difficult one. I look back and think I should have done so much more, but some of the people I have trained or supervised have gone on to do excellent things.  Initiating the wellbeing work in Lambeth in 2004-5 and seeing how it has developed has been great – especially how others have led the work so passionately over the years.  I’d also say it has been a privilege to have been part of the Living Well Collaborative; it’s how we should do business in health and care.   

What activity/hobby helps you escape from work life? 
Other stuff has taken a bit of a back seat this past year but I swim, run and cycle. For an oldie I’ve clocked up some decent times for sprint triathlons. I’m hoping to regroup in 2017.