Mike Wilson reports... Lincoln Sargeant was appointed Director of Public Health for North Yorkshire in 2012 following a reorganisation of the NHS which transferred responsibility for public health from the NHS to Local Authorities. This occurred at a time when austerity cuts were focussed on all public bodies and Local Authorities suffered more than most. As a result when the present pandemic arrived the country overall was ill prepared and the Government rushed to the private sector to bale us out.
Speaking to us on Zoom on October 2nd Lincoln pointed out that one of the many functions of public health was to be prepared to organise the response and to track infectious diseases, and reminded us that TB, for example, was still with us and environmental health officers were regularly engaged in these activities. It was therefore unfortunate that when the covid pandemic first struck the Government did not use this resource and set up separate expensive track and trace systems which are still struggling to cope. There is now a more general acceptance that liaison between central and local services is the most effective method of surveillance bearing in mind that every outbreak starts locally.
With regard to coping mechanisms for the pandemic it is important that the public are educated first into the consequences of the spread of the virus before seeking their support for the imposition of restrictions. Whilst it is everyone’s hope that a safe and effective vaccine is found it is important that those hopes are realistic bearing in mind the need for successful trials of any vaccine or treatment before their general use.
For the future, the present pandemic has exposed the inequities in our society and the low pay of our essential workers who are often in the most danger in a pandemic.