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Building capacity in the workforce: How can we best use education and training to benefit public health?

Knowledge is power. A saying that is used so often, and holds such truth.  The September 2017 HPPHN event showcased a number of different workstreams that have shown the benefits of integrating health psychology and behavioural science approaches into the area of public health. 

Scotland has been supporting the education of health psychology trainees working within public health for a number of years, and we can learn a great deal from the Scottish model presented by Vivian Swanson in this issue.  I hope that those working within local authorities and those with commissioning power, can read this article with a creative mind and consider how a similar approach may be realised in England and the rest of the UK (and beyond).  There is mutual benefit to this approach.  Those who have the funds to commission services, can employ a Stage 2 Health Psychologist in Training, to develop and deliver their services, benefiting both from a highly educated individual, already at least trained to masters level, while also being supported by their academic supervisor, who would be a Chartered Health Psychologist. The trainee will benefit from having a funded post to further develop the core skills required to be a Health Psychologist in the areas of consultancy, behaviour change, research, teaching and training, while the commissioning body will benefit from the knowledge transfer that this partnership provides, and the outcomes that it produces.  Going forward, we will aim to convene a working group, including key players from our panel of Honorary Fellows, to enter further conversations that can hopefully move us towards a similar model of funded Stage 2 training posts across the UK. To support us with this mission, please feel free to share our journal with others who may be interested in becoming involved in a working group on this or who may be in a position to fund a Stage 2 student as described in Viv’s article.  

When developing education and training, it is important to highlight that the core underpinnings of any sort of continuing professional development (CPD), is in itself behaviour change, and to not acknowledge this, could be a shortcoming of any learning opportunity.  Jo Hart and Lucie Byrne-Davies share their experiences of building capacity in the workforce through education and training and suggest that while the capability, opportunity and motivation of the target populations we work with should be considered, so too must the drivers of health professional behaviour.  This article provides an excellent insight into this approach.  I would urge all those considering the commissioning, development or delivery of any CPD to consider the points raised in this article.  

The HPPHN are passionate about CPD, and Tiffany Palmer highlights the need for shared training across the disciplines in which we serve.  She discusses an approach we hope to develop, whereby we can become the hub for education and training across the disciplines to enable those working within health psychology, public health and beyond to share training and best practice. We would welcome ideas for taking this forward as we develop our community of practice.

Understanding the role of behavioural science in public health is at the heart of what we stand for and our next event on February 28th 2018 will continue to take this agenda forward, focusing on application and impact.  Duncan Selbie, Chief Executive of Public Health England and Professor Falko Sniehotta a health psychologist from the Centre for Translational Research in Public Health will lead discussions in this area.  This event will provide an opportunity over lunch to network with others with similar interests, while also viewing poster presentations of those actively working across the disciplines.  In our attempt to support a community of practice, the afternoon will host a workshop, with speakers including Dr Katherine Brown (Coventry University) and Amanda Bunten (Public Health England) who will present applied examples of best practice.  We will encourage a debate on the facilitators and challenges to the integration of behavioural science within public health and we will end with a discussion on how the HPPHN can facilitate this going forward.

To this end, we continue our work with Public Health England, the Association for the Directors of Public Health, the British Psychological Society’s Division of Health Psychology and a number of other stakeholders with a vision of creating a Behavioural and Social Science Strategy for England.  Since the inception of the HPPHN, key stakeholders have joined together to discuss the benefits of behavioural science to the health of the nation and as a committee we have reflected on our journey thus far.  The HPPHN began, with wanting to bring the fields of public health and health psychology together, with Jim and I representing the two disciplines from our relevant learned societies (Faculty of Public Health and Division of Health Psychology) and Michelle Constable sitting within the two, trained in health psychology and employed in public health.  Over recent years, we have come to realise that we represent a much wider group of professionals, falling within the more universal terms of behavioural and social science.  In line with the strategy that we are involved in developing, we are, therefore, considering re-branding our network to something that will create a wider community of practice than just that of health psychology and public health.  While those of us who work within these two disciplines acknowledge the breath of our fields, as a committee we feel the HPPHN name may not represent all of whom could benefit from our work.  With this in mind, we will be holding a member’s survey to gain insight into whether our membership would agree with our suggestion to rebrand and become a Behavioural Science Community of Practice under the auspice of another name.  We welcome you to join this debate and hope to see you at our future events.

Angel Chater, Reader in Health Psychology and Behaviour Change, University of Bedfordshire

Email: angel.chater@beds.ac.uk