Welcome to the winter edition of the BSPHN Publication!
I understate this significantly when I say that the last few months have proved to be a challenge for us all and I sincerely hope that you are all keeping safe and well. Covid-19 continues to impact on all of our lives both personally and professionally. The response to the pandemic has increased focus on the use of behavioural and social science to reduce and prevent the spread of the virus. This has brought both opportunities and challenges.
Many of us have found reserves of energy and resilience we never knew we had, but we need to try to self-care. Self-emptying and self-giving has been part and parcel of leadership and work these past months. But so must self-care be if we are to be well and function for the next haul and for the journey to recovery. It is important now and always that we do try to do this, however imperfectly. And in our times of doubt and exhaustion, know that others are with you. Do not expect yourself to be superhuman, because it is your humanity that is most precious in these times, including the need to admit your fears, grief, loss, anger, exhaustion and the time to switch off and just be, and self-care. As you all know, I try to be a Catholic. What I have learned is the example of the women and men in my heritage who burned themselves out in their early thirties is not the example we need now. The example of those who can self-care, be human, loving and stay the course is what matters. I know that a number of you have found what the Network has done – from fronting and calling publicly for the use of behavioural and social sciences, to sharing learning and events, and to just providing people with a smiling and caring face (even if on zoom) helpful. We are needed. You are needed. That is not going to change.
I often say that this is a marathon, not a sprint, and we will be recovering from the consequences of Covid-19 for some time. Behavioural and social sciences must be a strong part of this.
There has been a significantly increased recognition of the importance of behavioural and social sciences as part of the Covid-19 response, which has been very positive. However, the current situation has also demonstrated a significant lack of capacity, skills, and access to expertise in some parts of the system and we have work to do to address this. These are issues that we set out to address as a community of practice supporting the PHE Behavioural and Social Sciences Strategy (2018). The Covid-19 response has broadly increased the understanding of the importance of the role that behavioural science plays in developing appropriate strategies, interventions and communications to keep our families, communities and population safe. In the last few months much has changed and we have worked together as a system to address the threat to our population. Barriers and administrative issues have been broken down so that we can find easy ways to work across real and perceived boundaries to share best practice across academic, local authorities and the NHS.
The journey towards recovery is underway and behavioural and social science will have a significant role to play over the coming months. There is a real need for researchers and public health practitioners to share insights to support the uptake of the vaccine, as well as continuing to support the continuation of health-protective behaviours. The pandemic has exposed particular areas of health inequalities that must be explored, understood and addressed in order to protect communities, particularly the most vulnerable.
There have been good things. We have moved much online (although I sometimes approach my laptop with an impending sense of Zoom. Other platforms are available). But not everyone can access or use technology and there is no replacement for the physical presence of others. Dare I say I have found BSPHN events a source of mutual care, support, understanding and encouragement? And dare I say further, this is as much one of our unique selling points as the transdisciplinary approach we try to take? That’s down to you, and long may it continue.
As an established community of practice, the BSPHN is well placed to support efforts to recovery. The attitudes I described just above, are part of this. Blending the human with the science. We have four thriving regional Hubs that are building capacity, skills and access to expertise locally. A range of virtual events have been held across the country to share innovations and case studies as part of the Covid-19 response. These Hubs are led and driven by local partners to ensure that local needs are met and it has been a privilege to watch these communities of practice become established and to see the real difference they are making to local plans.
Nationally, we have taken the decision to host a virtual conference on 9-11th February (so a further sense of impending Zoom). Although the mode of delivery has changed, the opportunity to hear from experts in the field has not. We are delighted to welcome back Professor Susan Michie as one of our keynote speakers who will be sharing her reflections on instigating change for public health during Covid-19. We are also delighted to be hosting our first discussion session, chaired by Professor Marie Johnston, University of Aberdeen and including Greg Fell, DPH Sheffield and Professor Maddy Arden, Sheffield Hallam University on the topic of 'Embedding behavioural science in public health during COVID-19: Successes and challenges'. We will, of course, have a case study session and there will be lots of opportunities to share best practice, ask questions, and of course to Network!
It is by continuing to come together in this way that we will find the right solutions to the challenges ahead and if the BSPHN can be of any support or assistance on this journey please do let us know. You have led and excelled in tough times. For that you have my love, respect and thanks. When the histories of this pandemic are written, we must ensure that your work is reflected in there.
I wish you all a happy and restful Christmas.
Professor Jim McManus (Chair, BSPHN) and Dr Michelle Constable (Chair-Elect, BSPHN)