• Open Access

Measuring Health and Wellbeing

Edited by John Harvey and Vicki Taylor. Published by Sage Publications – Learning Matters, UK. Distributed by Footprint Books, Australia. ISBN 9780857254337; 140 pages; RRP $36.

Reviewed by Christine Stone

Public Health Practitioner, Christine Stone Consulting

Public health practice now encompasses a broad array of disciplines and competencies. As an example, one only has to look at the Foresight Obesity System Atlas1 to see the complexity and multiplicity of factors that have been shown to influence obesity. In such a context, how best can newcomers be equipped in the field of public health using a common framework across the country? The United Kingdom (UK) has addressed this by developing the UK Public Health Skills and Career Framework (2008). There are four core areas that anyone working in Public Health must know about and have certain competencies within, and five non-core (defined) areas that are more specialised such as public health intelligence or health protection.

This book is one of the Transforming Public Health Practice books. The purpose is to support The Framework by outlining the key knowledge and skills in one of the four core areas, Surveillance and assessment of the population's health and wellbeing. The authors stated aim ‘is to create a practical resource to support anyone preparing a portfolio for submission for registration as a defined specialist (at level 8), or registration as a public health practitioner (at level 5) and for those who are interested in the standards for measuring and surveying population health’. They are well qualified to do this as they have experience across a number of areas of Public Health and at the national, regional and local level at manager or director level. They have strong links with the Framework, and Public Health Registration.

The book takes the reader through key components of measuring health and wellbeing chapter by chapter: Basic Concepts, Measures of health and Wellbeing; Doing a Health Needs Assessment; Health Surveillance; Measuring Health Outcomes and Intelligent Application: Defining the ‘So-Whats’. Each chapter is linked to key competencies in the Framework. The chapters have a good mixture of theory, illustrative diagrams, examples, case studies, activities and a couple of key references. The text is accessible with interesting examples and case-studies relating to both health and healthcare.

Every time I said but what about…? I had to remind myself that this is a basic text and not the ‘Oxford Handbook of Public Health Practice’ reviewed in the October issue of the journal. The scope and level of content is appropriate for an introductory text. While it has been written specifically for Public Health Practice in the UK and will be useful for developing portfolios of work for UK registration, much of the material is generic enough to be used in other locations. The activities provide tasks that encourage critical thinking and reflective practice using the concepts outlined in each chapter. Most important UK data sources are identified throughout the book and readers are encouraged to access and work with them as part of the recommended activities. There is room for improvement. For example I am concerned there is no mention of confidence intervals and issues of small numbers when considering small area data! It may have been considered the realm of a more specialist area but I hope not.

There are many changes happening in the UK, with the new Health and Social Care Act 2012 and the establishment of Public Health England on 1 April 2013 (no joke!).2 The authors did well to include in this edition material on some of the changes which give responsibility to the Health and Wellbeing Boards for the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment and the Joint Health and Wellbeing Strategies. There is a wealth of material currently being produced to support this transition, such as the Public Health Surveillance Strategy,3 that will better inform the next edition of this manual.

To conclude, for those in the UK, the value of this book is twofold in the context of a newly defined Framework. First, it brings to life these competencies in a very practical way with theoretical descriptions, case studies, guided activities designed to apply what the reader has learnt and a couple of references to more in-depth material. Second, it is context specific and designed for evidence development for Public Health at a local level in the UK.

For others outside the UK, the book is useful secondary text for developing competencies for local area surveillance and assessment for students at undergraduate or basic masters level or people who are new to this area of work in Public Health.