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Look how far we have come in such a short time…

Intertwining the disciplines of Health Psychology and Public Health together is more salient now than ever before.  As behaviour change and behavioural science move higher and higher up the agenda in public health and other related disciplines, health psychology is embracing the chance to shine. 

One of the strengths of health psychology lies in the science of behaviour change, from individual and community, right up to population level interventions.  Using theoretically-driven and evidence-based methodologies, health psychologists are well equipped to design, deliver and evaluate public health programmes, providing a protocol for the replication of effective interventions that can be rolled out to scale. This is essential for an ever decreasing public health budget, and the need to address population health and wellness.

Our Network has come a long way in our first three years and our events have been a huge success, attracting noteworthy speakers and delegates from across the country.  We have had attendance from a good mix of professionals and trainees from the two disciplines, helping to develop our understanding of the challenges faced when bringing research and practice in the two areas together.  Health psychology, by nature, is scientific and thus academic, often reflected through detailed understanding of a topic area, which in essence takes time, and, therefore, can be resource-intensive. Public health in comparison, works on much shorter timeframes, and must react to the populations in which it serves, with limited budget.  More work is needed to forge forward the practicalities of bringing health psychology and public health together to enhance the health of the nation.

We hope that the Health Psychology in Public Health Network can go some way in facilitating this mission.  Our foundations continue to grow and we have become a stakeholder in discussions with both the British Psychological Society’s Division of Health Psychology (DHP) and Public Health England, a huge achievement for our third birthday!

In my welcome address at our annual conference on the 20th February 2017, we took a tour through the volume of work in the area of behaviour change over the last few decades.  Here are a few things to note:

  • 2003 – The secondment of Health Psychologists from the BPS Division of Health Psychology to the UK Department of Health’s Division of Public Health, described in the Psychologist (Abraham & Michie, 2005). This paper draws on some core similarities of the competencies in Health Psychology training and the UK Voluntary Register for Public Health Specialists – a conversation that should perhaps be re-visited.
  • 2004 - Health Psychology input into the White paper ‘Choosing Health’, highlighting the need to consider the BioPsychoSocial Approach to health promotion and disease prevention.
  • 2007 - NICE Guidance on Behaviour Change: General Approaches [PH6], setting the priorities in this area.
  • 2007 – In the same year, we saw the first funded places for Health Psychology training (Stage 2) through the NHS Education for Scotland (NES) and Health Boards to meet NHS Scotland health improvement targets. This continues to date. 
  • 2008 – Launch of the Improving Health: Changing Behaviour: NHS Health Trainer Handbook (Michie et al., 2008), a highly recommended resource.
  • 2010 – Development of the Health Behaviour Change Competency Framework (Dixon & Johnston, 2010), highlighting the competencies of those working in the area of behaviour change.
  • 2011 - House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee report on Behaviour Change (for which I contributed to a response on behalf of the BPS DHP), taking the importance of behaviour change to Parliament.
  • 2011 – Publication of the Behaviour Change Wheel (Michie et al., 2011), a highly recommended resource for the design, delivery and evaluation of behaviour change interventions.
  • 2013 - Public Health England created, an organisation with behavioural insights at the heart of public health campaigns.
  • 2013 - Health Psychology in Public Health Network (HPPHN) officially launched, founded by members of the BPS Division of Health Psychology (me) and Faculty of Public Health (Prof Jim McManus) and those working across both disciplines whom share the same agenda – to improve the health of the nation! Something I dreamed of in my article in the Psychologist in 2011 (Florence & Chater, 2011).

The relationship between health psychology and public health has come so far since my initial training in 2000, and there are some key drivers in this journey, as can be seen from the references above.  A significant next step is to develop an ontology through the Welcome Trust funded Human Behaviour Change Project.  Led by Professor Susan Michie (UCL), the vision is to develop an artificial intelligence system to answer the frequently asked question; ‘What behaviour change interventions work, how well, for whom, in what setting, for what behaviours and why?’

An optimistic vision would be to see Health Psychology Stage 2 places funded within local authority and organisations with a remit for public health.  Scotland have provided a fantastic example of how this can work well, however, this is no small feat. In my new role as Chair, I hope to work alongside our Health Psychology and Public Health peers to be able to sow the seeds to those with commissioning and recruitment power of the potential Health Psychology could bring to Public Health services, with a view of creating opportunities for Stage 2 trainees, with a Knowledge Transfer Partnership style approach.  Without a magic wand we will have to watch this space, but I would welcome any ideas members may have to support this vision.

I am very proud of what we as a network have achieved thus far.  I cannot thank Jim enough for all the support he has given this initiative and I am extremely excited to take on the role as Chair and continue this excellent work.

 

References

Abraham, C. & Michie, S. (2005). Contributing to public health policy and practice. The Psychologist, 18, 676-679.

Dixon, D., & Johnston, M. (2010). Health behaviour change competency framework: competences to deliver interventions to change lifestyle behaviours that affect health. Scotland: NHS Health, 1-46.

Florence, I. & Chater, A. (2011). From cure to prevention: Ian Florence talks to Angel Chater about her love affair with Health Psychology. The Psychologist, 24(12), 932-933.

Michie, S., Rumsey, N., Fussell, A., Hardeman, W., Johnston, M., Newman, S. & Yardley, L. (2008) Improving health: changing behaviour. NHS health trainer handbook. London: Department of Health.

Michie, S., van Stralen, M. M., & West, R. (2011). The behaviour change wheel: a new method for characterising and designing behaviour change interventions. Implementation Science, 6(1), 42.

 

Dr Angel Chater, Reader in Health Psychology and Behaviour Change, Lead of the Centre for Health, Wellbeing and Behaviour Change, University of Bedfordshire, Incoming Chair HPPHN

Email: angel.chater@beds.ac.uk