Donaldson's Essential Public Health (Third Ed)

By Liam J Donaldson and Gabriel Scally . Published by Radcliffe Publishing , Oxford . 2009 . ISBN 978184612098 . 566 pages plus index . RRP $96.00

Reviewed by Max Watson

Retired public health nutritionist, Melbourne

This volume is a reincarnation of a long-established reference originally written by the senior author, presently the UK's Chief Medical Adviser, with his late father in the 1980s. The current authors have worked in remarkably diverse areas of interest, too numerous to mention in this review and this experience has been ably used. While the emphasis is on the health system in the UK, generally it has universal relevance, especially as here and elsewhere there is active debate as to how health services can be efficiently provided in a modern economy. The work is unashamedly proud of healthcare in the UK, but acknowledging the need for evolution and engaging in how change might be implemented.

This volume has breadth including epidemiology, strategies for intervention to promote health and prevent disease and health policy. Chapters also explore many contemporary challenges, including provision of disability services, mental healthcare, mother and child care and care of the elderly. New and emerging diseases including potential pandemics are discussed. It is pleasing that opportunity is frequently taken to place public health practice in a historical context in the text, tables and figures.

Readers of this Journal are likely to engage with this text in a range of ways. There may be at times frustration for some with the emphasis on service provision within the National Health Service. For many more the greater impact of public health principles and practice within a system based on universal public care will be appealing. The six vignettes in Chapter 2 describing a variety of investigations of health service problems are a triumph. These describe how a range of approaches can provide insight to concerns such as, access to care for marginalised minority groups, allocation of specialist services, functional capacity and survival in the elderly, extended stay in hospital following trauma, child abuse, and the impact of closure of large mental hospitals.

Often important concepts are only briefly described, a limitation dictated by the scope of this book. The longest chapter concerns infectious diseases dealing with the major issues including principal diseases, causes of infection, and rare infections including those acquired overseas. As with the book in general, it is engaging and clearly presented and up-to-date, for example, with passing reference to Hendra virus. This and other chapters provide an overview of the subject matter that will facilitate a background for further study. While introductory in content, the detail is not superficial. The only errors observed were editorial in nature. The authors could have encouraged readers to increase their knowledge by providing suggested further readings, although perhaps this is unnecessary in an era of Google Scholar.

This is an excellent ‘getting started’ text. Healthcare is now a vital element in modern society and destined to be increasingly so. Given that public health practitioners have a key and potentially more important role in provision of health, this is a helpful book. Hopefully it will be more widely accessed, by others with responsibilities in the health sector as well.