Health Protection Agency conference


11-12 September 2012

In April 2013, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) will be merged into ‘Public Health England’ and its last ever conference took place at the Arts Centre of Warwick University on 11-12 September 2012. I attended the first day, which was opened by the CEO of the HPA, Justin McCracken, to rapturous applause. Justin thanked the staff of the HPA for their work in making the organisation well-respected and set the scene for a packed and informative time, with parallel sessions covering a wide range of topics several of which were relevant to Evidence Aid.

I started with the parallel session on public health, when Christina Scott, who heads the Civil Contingencies Secretariat in the UK Cabinet Office, spoke about her role in enhancing the UK’s ability to prepare for, respond to and recover from emergencies. She highlighted how the nature of today’s society means that incidents have greater impact, because of the interdependency of various sectors. The knowledge being compiled within Evidence Aid is being designed with this in mind, recognising that when a natural disaster or major healthcare emergency strikes, reliable up-to-date information is likely to be needed by a range of people, and this needs to be packaged in ways that are helpful and accessible, in particular in countries and settings without the resources needed to cope with large scale emergencies.

Later in the morning, the session on the Japanese tsunami and subsequent nuclear crisis in Fukishima provided an opportunity for a conversation with Stephanie Haywood, from the Centre for Radiological Chemicals and Environmental Hazards in Didcot. Stephanie invited me to visit the Centre, which is less than 10 miles from my office in Oxford, to talk about Evidence Aid, and to learn more about uncertainties around nuclear accidents or disasters, and the potential for Evidence Aid to expand into this area.

Following a wonderful lunch in the September sunshine, the poster sessions included one featuring the Evidence Aid systematic review on ‘Electric Fans for Heatwaves’. Katie Carmichael attended the poster and did a great job of promoting Evidence Aid, handing out leaflets about how to get involved. Thanks Katie!

The afternoon sessions covered ‘Extreme Events’. We heard from Andrew Lee of the University of Sheffield about evidence gaps for health emergency planning in the UK. He explained that most of the relevant literature comes from the USA, and described how much of the existing research is not of robust quality. Andrew also showed how the typical focus of emergency planning on high impact disasters that might happen, such as large terrorist attacks, means that insufficient attention is paid to disasters, like flooding, that have less effect as individual events but whichwillhappen and are more likely to happen more frequently.

Alistair Humphrey (who I had met at the Evidence Aid training event in March 2012) gave a wonderful talk about his experience of theCanterburyearthquake, from both a professional and personal perspective. His personal story was particularly powerful, finishing with the take-home message of ‘get to know your neighbours’ as a means of finding out who might need, or be able to provide, help in an emergency.

Katie Carmichael concluded the afternoon parallel session by telling us about the recently published Cold Weather Plan for England. She explained how the additional 27,000 deaths during cold weather are mostly due to underlying health conditions, which are exacerbated by the cold weather event itself. On a positive note, Katie described community ‘buy in’ projects, including a knitting group where people got together to knit hats and scarves for the most vulnerable in their community.

The day ended with the Turnburg Lecture where Tom Frieden from the Center for Disease Control in the USA talked about Public Health in an era of fiscal constraint and epidemiological transition.

Scattered through my day were many conversations, including one with Emma Visman from Humanitarian Futures – a project bringing together stakeholders to bridge the gap between those producing science and those needing science. I look forward to future collaborations between Evidence Aid and Humanitarian Futures, in, yes, the future!

More information about the HPA Conference, and the presentations are available here.