Health zealots in the UK, who apparently only number 40,000 people (is that all? 400,000 would seem more like it.), are seeking to enlist a 20-million-strong ‘wider workforce’.
Bar staff and barbers could soon be crucial players in helping people see the dangers of excessive drinking, lack of exercise and unhealthy diets, according to a government-commissioned report.
The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), a charity dedicated to improving health and wellbeing in society, has outlined plans for a range of different occupations – including cleaners, hairdressers, postal workers, and pub and restaurant staff – that could be enlisted to support efforts to tackle the public health crisis in England.
The RSPH report, Rethinking the Public Health Workforce, states that as many as 15 million workers – more than a quarter of England’s population of 54 million – could help form a “wider public health workforce” with sufficient training.
With bookmakers already having dipped their toes in the water by spreading public health messages to men who would normally avoid their local GPs’ surgery, the NHS and local authority services are now being urged to consider going further in nudging reluctant souls of both genders into seeking medical help and advice.
Cleaners and postal workers are among sections of the workforce that could help spread the message, the report says .
Similarly, bars and other businesses could provide less forbidding venues for checking blood pressure and carrying out other medical tests, engaging people in “conversations” about healthy lifestyles and offering “signposts” to steer them on to more specialist services.
Shirley Cramer, RSPH’s chief executive, said: “A wide variety of professions enjoy a trusted relationship and regular contact with the public. Such professionals may be able to offer the public advice or, indeed, be asked for such advice.
“If you consider bars or restaurants as an example, there may be potential for people working in these establishments to help promote healthier choices or to signpost to a range of other lifestyle health services, including smoking cessation or physical activity.”
Cramer added that by engaging with workers far beyond those normally used to spread public health messages, “not only might we help support these individuals to improve their own health and wellbeing, but reaching out to the people they interact with could be significant”.
The society’s research suggested one in four people would be prepared to take public health advice from hairdressers and shop workers.
So you arrive at your local pub one sunny afternoon, and order a pint and a packet of salted nuts, and the barmaid says, “A whole pint? Are you sure about that? We wouldn’t want to see you drive off and crash at the next corner, would we? And do you really want salted nuts? You do know that salt is as poisonous as sugar or fat, don’t you? Studies have shown it.”
But you insist on both the pint and the salted nuts, and set out for the garden, manoeuvring around the new I Speak Your Weight machine that has replaced the dart board, and settle down for a quiet drink and a smoke.
But you’ve hardly been there five minutes when the pub landlord comes out carrying a blood pressure gauge and thermometer and stethoscope, and cheerily asks, “Would you like to take our free health check? It only takes five minutes. We measure your blood pressure and your temperature and ask a few questions, and then tell you how long you’re likely to live, and where your nearest doctor is.”
You politely decline the offer, and settle down again to try and enjoy your pint, when a man who’d been sitting at a nearby table wanders over and says, “I see you’re a smoker. You do know that it’s killing you, don’t you? Three quarters of all smokers are killed by their smoking addiction, some of them by catching fire while lighting cigarettes.”
He pulls out a photo from an inside pocket, lays it on the table, and points a finger at the gory image on it. “This poor chap burnt his whole face off with a butane lighter. One just like yours, as a matter of fact.”
And with that, you abandon both the unfinished pint and the uneaten packet of nuts and head for your car as fast as your legs can take you.
And when you get home, the postman is delivering the mail. As he pushes the last of the letters through the letterbox, he calls through it to you. “Can I interest you in the new gym that’s opened near here? You look like you could do with a bit of exercise. They’ve got weights and pulleys and all sorts of other contraptions. They are also organising a weekly marathon run. It’s all tremendous fun!”
You can read the whole jargon-laden RSPH report here.