Oxford Handbook of Public Health Practice

Oxford Handbook of Public Health Practice

Public Health (2002) 116, 383–385 ß R.I.P.H.H. 2002 www.nature.com/ph Book Review This handbook is intended to be used by a wide variety of professio...

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Public Health (2002) 116, 383–385 ß R.I.P.H.H. 2002 www.nature.com/ph

Book Review This handbook is intended to be used by a wide variety of professionals in the public health domain, providing a practical and pocket-sized guide to public health skills and issues. We have therefore asked four Public Health professionals at different stages of their careers to give their views on this book. Public Health (2002) 116, 383–385. doi:10.1038/sj.puh.1900885

Oxford Handbook of Public Health Practice, Edited by D Pencheon, C Guest, D Melzer and JA Muir Gray, Oxford University Press, 2001, 632 pp, £19.95, ISBN 0-19-263221-3. www.oup.co.uk The Oxford Handbook of Public Health Practice aims to ‘help new public health practitioners appreciate the scope, frameworks and techniques in public health’ and to be ‘a constant refresher and reference guide for the more experienced reader’ (p xviii, para 3). The authors have assumed that the reader has a basic knowledge of epidemiology and statistics. The book is divided into nine parts. There are also useful appendices relating to classic articles and books in public health, sources of reference and a glossary. Part 1 describes the skills needed to assess health needs of a population. Part 2 focuses on the skills required for decision-making in public health practice. Part 3 outlines approaches to influence policy. Part 4 summarizes the way in which public health practitioners use direct action to improve the health of populations. Parts 5 and 6 address the contribution that public health practitioners can make to assessing and assuring the quality and accountability of health care. Part 7 deals with personal effectiveness of public health practitioners and, with the exception of Chapter 7.6 (which describes developing public health strategies), is relevant to trainees outside public health medicine. Part 8 examines the organizational skills that are needed to create effective change and Part 9 consists of case studies that illustrate the concepts described earlier in the book. The authors do not expect that the handbook will be read from start to finish, but rather that it will be accessed where necessary to explain concepts or refresh learning. This is easily achieved as the handbook uses a systematic approach. Each part begins with an introduction explaining its relevance to public health practice and summarizes what the reader will learn from the chapters within it. The chapters follow a similar pattern, outlining objectives and achieving them by simply and concisely explaining concepts and providing a practical guide to help the reader in

everyday practice. Diagrams reinforce the concepts described in the text and boxes summarizing definitions, concepts and case studies are particularly helpful. Relevant national and international examples are used to illustrate points and show how public health concepts can be used in practice. Each chapter concludes with a further resource section, which is of particular use as it directs the reader to other relevant sources of reading. As the handbook was published in 2001, it is up-to-date with the recent changes in the NHS. Chapter 6.4 provides a useful summary of the history of commissioning NHS services from its inception to the present. However, it can be somewhat confusing when first encountering text marked with an asterix. The asterix is meant to direct the reader to the Glossary, but this is explained only on reaching it. The editors of the Oxford Handbook of Public Health Practice have achieved their aim. It is excellent value for money and is essential reading for new trainees and experienced practitioners of Public Health Medicine alike. M Korkodilos Specialist Registrar in Public Health Medicine, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Health Authority, UK The handbook is one a series covering different areas of clinical practice intended as pocket reference books, hence the A5 size. It intends to cover the scope of modern public health practice. Aimed at an international market, it uses as its base the 10 core activities of public health practice outlined by the US Health and Human Services Public Health Service. Its stated audience includes students, teachers and more experienced practitioners. The emphasis is on setting out practical steps to solve public health problems and issues. The handbook is divided into nine broad areas each with several short, succinct sub-sections, each following a similar layout for ease of access and clarity. The final section contains a number of practical case-studies. The

Book review


range of contributors is impressive. Most are from the UK. The handbook is at its most useful in bringing together in one place all aspects of public health from the more technical end covering health needs assessment, communicable disease to community development and health promotion. One section helpfully focuses on personal effectiveness, which includes such topics as leadership skills, effecting change at a meeting and working with the media. What you will not get in this handbook is a focus on the structure of public health in the UK, although most of the case studies are UK-based. It is a pity also that the there is no correlation with the 10 key areas of public health practice as defined by the Faculty of Public Health Medicine, presumably because most of the sections would have been prepared before these were issued. The Introduction makes the assumption that a reader will have a basic understanding of epidemiology and statistics. The handbook is not therefore for the absolute beginner. What is does provide is a brief overview of the subject matter for those who wish to appreciate in more detail aspects of public health practice and for those who are already working in the field it will provide a check list and a reminder of some of the key concepts. For both groups providing an up-to-date summary key references at the end of each section proves invaluable. Inevitably in a book with such a wide remit, no one subject is dealt with to any great depth. As such the book will have broad appeal. By focusing on practical techniques and steps, the handbook provides a unique overview of the breadth of modern public health practice. J Wright Deputy Director, Public Health Resource Unit, Institute of Health Sciences, Oxford, UK In his Foreword to this splendid little book, Liam Donaldson remarked that originality, practical focus and comprehensive coverage are qualities not normally found in medical textbooks. This little Oxford handbook meets those challenges triumphantly, and already it must have become the ‘must have’ public health book of the year, if not the decade. It sets out to address public health problems, rather than be a traditional textbook. It is focused around the then core activities of public health outlined by the US health and human services public health service, and covers familiar topics such as preventing epidemics and promoting healthy behaviour, but also includes some of the key objectives of modern multi-disciplinary public health such as quality assurance and reaching the ‘hard to reach’ people. In a remarkable feat of editing, 92 authors have produced over 60 chapters covering an enormous range of topics, ranging from scoping public health problems to values in public health, from shaping organizational policy to influencing international policy and developing personal skills. Public Health

There is a good list of references and additional resources at the end of each chapter, and some particularly good websites. The book is not intended to be read systematically from cover to cover, and each of these short chapters stands on its own and can be read in a few minutes. It follows the familiar Oxford handbook style, designed to be carried in the clinician’s white coat pocket, to be referred to during ward rounds and case discussions. Public Health doctors will be carrying this book around with them and sneaking a look during difficult meetings. I have had this book in my briefcase constantly since it was published and I have found the sections on decisionmaking and personal effectiveness constantly of help. The editors assume that the reader already has a basic understanding of epidemiology and statistics and, other than that, their claim that this book covers the building blocks of public health practice is entirely justified. Oxford University Press thoughtfully include a card for feeding back comments and suggestions for future editions. I note to my shame that I have not yet returned mine. There is very little that I would like to say to the publisher, other than my congratulations on a superb book and my hope that there will, indeed be future editions. In the section on personal effectiveness I would like to see something about negotiating skills and interview technique. The glossary could be expanded to include definitions of epidemiological terms, and I think they would benefit in a short chapter on basic medical statistics, especially about the measurement of risk. This is not a book to put on the library shelf. It is meant to be carried around and people working in public health whether they are doctors, specialists or scientists should have their own copy close by at all times. Soon it will be possible to carry a completed medical library in a palm top computer and I hope that the publishers will consider this for a future edition. P Tiplady Public Health Physician, Cumbria and Lancashire Health Authority, UK With four well-known and able public health figures as editors and an introduction from Liam Donaldson, Chief Medical Officer for England, my expectations were high when I began looking through this handbook. I was not disappointed. There are a plethora of contributors; it takes five pages to list all 92 of them. The different skills of the contributors are used to good effect by tackling a wide sweep of public health functions and supporting that with some interesting case histories. Now, not only do I know more about the Women’s Health Committees in Western Samoa in 1929 than I did before, but I also can better appreciate today’s challenge for community empowerment in health. It would have been good to have seen a case study included alongside a section on investigating a

Book review


disease cluster, which is an excellent review of the process. All the sections are supported by lists of further resources and references. As a consultant in communicable disease control, I particularly had to look at Part 4, which is called Direct Action. This includes a section on managing a communicable disease outbreak. Anyone seeking to manage an outbreak simply with this chapter will have made a good start, but must be advised to seek help from significant others such as the Local Authority’s Environmental Health Officers who are not mentioned in this section. It may also be helpful to convene an incident group, a useful strategy not mentioned. Part 4 also includes a welcome section on the public health professional as a political activist. The options suggested range from raising public awareness of an issue through lobbying to breaking the law. While covering the last of these options the reader is reminded that most public health professionals break the law frequently, by speeding, which endangers the public health rather than protects it.

The topic that is most obviously missing from the handbook is public health legislation. This may be because the editors saw the book as having an appeal outside the UK, but there are a smattering of references to relevant UK legislation. A handbook can never be the total source of all knowledge on all aspects of public health practice but this handbook is a valiant attempt. With the advent of PCTs in England we may well be tackling unfamiliar public health tasks over the next few months; the Oxford Handbook of Public Health Practice would be valuable resource on a nearby shelf. The book is of a convenient size to serve as a welcome stocking filler for any public health practitioner at Christmas, always assuming, of course, that they have not bought one in the meantime. R Gelletlie Consultant in Communicable Disease Control, Health Protection Unit, North Bradford Primary Care Trust, UK

Public Health