Bay's new public health man says lessons can be learned from pandemic - and urges caution

Council official in suit

Bay's new public health boss - Credit: Submitted

Torbay has a new Director of Public Health.

Here Dr Lincoln Sargeant shares the inspiration behind his career and how we came to be Torbay’s driving force for a healthy English Riviera.

I remember as a child visiting the doctor on many occasions because I was often ill, and this no doubt sowed the seeds for my future.

I was born and grew up in the West Indies between my birthplace in Nevis (Alexander Hamilton who inspired the hit musical was also born there) and the British Virgin Islands.

As the first person in my family to go to university and my mother always encouraging me to pursue my dreams, I soon learned that if I wanted to achieve my goals, I would have to take risks to seize opportunities.

So, over the years I moved around the Caribbean and the UK to achieve my ambition to train and work in medicine.

During my training and practice I lived in Jamaica, Barbados, and Trinidad. Following postgraduate training in general medicine, a Masters degree in Epidemiology at the University of Cambridge, a PhD and three years as a lecturer at the University of the West Indies, I wanted to make a greater difference for people whose health and life ambitions are affected by factors beyond their control.

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In 2003 my family and I migrated to the UK and after the five years of training, I was appointed as a consultant in public health medicine in Cambridgeshire, later moving to North Yorkshire as director of public health.

My childhood and experiences have inspired me to be part of the ambition to tackle the disparity of health in all our communities.

No matter how healthy a town or postcode may be ‘on average’ there are always significant gaps between the healthiest and least healthy.

For many, the COVID-19 pandemic may feel like the first time they have encountered public health but in fact we have been bridging this gap for many years. From vaccination to mental health, to healthy eating, we can help or hinder people through the interventions and services we deliver and the physical, social and economic environments we promote.

For me, Torbay offers an exciting opportunity to shape our economy, to make it work better for everyone. There is a strong history of working with communities to come up with local solutions and there are many examples of pioneering initiatives, especially in delivering integrated health and social care for our residents.

This was well illustrated in our response to the pandemic, with the size of our older population providing a particular challenge for various agencies to come together and respond quickly.

Working with the NHS Trust and Clinical Commissioning Group, and care home owners, we were able to minimise and control outbreaks and quickly mobilise our vaccination programme, which resulted in us meeting the national target for vaccinating people over 80. We can use these strengths to continue our improvement journey for children and families facing challenging circumstances and poorer health outcomes as well as other areas where we are falling behind on public health indicators.

Looking forward, I am optimistic we are over the worst of the pandemic, with cases of the virus remaining steady and vaccination take-up a being very high. However, I want to caution against complacency because the virus remains a threat as it adapts and tries to overcome our public health measures.

Summer re-opening does present a challenge and, of course, there is concern with variants of the virus in other parts of the country. That’s why it's so important we all understand the virus has not gone.

Spending more time with friends and family is a fantastic and much needed boost to our mental health but we need more than ever to focus on wearing a mask, washing our hands and keeping a safe space.

We should avoid overcrowded and poorly ventilated spaces and continue to be responsible in our actions as we enjoy a wider range of activities as restrictions ease.