Public health in Norfolk – understanding its importance and how it works

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The health of people in our communities faces a variety of complex and linked challenges, such as the increase in people living with chronic and long-term illness linked to our ageing population and addressing health inequalities. This article emphasises the importance of partnership, which is reflected in CAN’s commitment to working with partners in ensuring fair outcomes for everyone - regardless of where they live or who they are in Norfolk.  

What exactly is Public Health? 

The World Health Organisation defines it as ‘the art and science of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health through the organised efforts of society.’  But what does that mean in practice? Essentially, public health is about helping people to stay healthy and protecting them from threats to their health. It covers a wide range of life factors, such as mental health and wellbeing, children and young people, sexual health, domestic abuse, drugs and substance misuse, and social prescribing. 

A brief look back 

Medical academics talk of ‘waves’ of approaches to public health. In the 19th century, the need to improve environmental conditions – provision of safe drinking water, safe sewage disposal for example – was recognised, followed by prevention and treatment of disease with vaccines and antibiotics. There followed appreciation of the links between lifestyle and disease – smoking, alcohol, high cholesterol and so on. From the 1960s, understanding of the economic and social factors that affect people’s health came to the fore. Nowadays, there is added emphasis on individuals and shared responsibility for healthier behaviour, encouraging people to make healthy choices, avoiding unhealthy lifestyles. So, while medicine and nursing are vital for helping and supporting people when they fall ill, public health contributes to reducing the causes of ill-health and improving people's health and wellbeing. 

Who or what is responsible for public health in Norfolk? 

Let’s look at it from ‘top-down’. Public Health England is an agency of the government’s Department of Health and Social Care. We hear a lot about PHE in the media these days related to the Covid-19 pandemic, which reflects its role in protecting the nation’s health and addressing inequalities. From there, responsibility devolves to upper tier local authorities. In Norfolk that’s the County Council, which has a Public Health team within its Department for Community and Environmental Services. 

The County Council enshrines its approach to ensuring good public health in a helpful and informative strategy document called Norfolk’s Living Well - A public health strategy for Norfolk 2016-2020 downloadable here.  The aim is to “Help the people of Norfolk live in healthy places, promote healthy lifestyles, prevent ill-health and reduce health inequalities.” The Strategy explains public health as: 

  • helping people to stay healthy and make healthier choices 
  • emphasising prevention of ill health rather than providing treatment 
  • protecting people from threats to their health 
  • understanding factors that influence people’s health & wellbeing 
  • being concerned with the health of the whole population as well as specific individuals and groups. 


It covers a wide range of life factors, such as mental health and wellbeing, children and young people, sexual health, domestic abuse, drugs and substance misuse, road safety, and social prescribing.  The Strategy is well worth reading, whether you are a health practitioner, private individual, or working in a VCSE organisation that in any way interacts with the public. 

Health and Wellbeing Board  

A central element of the Strategy is the Health and Wellbeing Board which brings together key local partners such as Norfolk and Waveney Clinical Commissioning Group and the seven district councils to agree local priorities and actions.  In 2018 the Health and Wellbeing Board (HWB) agreed and launched its Joint Health and Wellbeing Strategy, viewable here, which affirms shared commitment by partner organisations to taking collective responsibility for health and wellbeing. 

CAN’s activities and involvement 

You can read about the range of initiatives that CAN has developed, delivers and supports –  including ThinkingOil (our collective heating oil buying scheme), social prescribing, CANConnect, NHS Health Advocacy and much more - at our ‘What We Do’ page.