Proactive approach: Professor John Ashton, former director of public health CumbriaJONATHAN BECKER
Cumbria’s former public health director says that “fundamental changes” are needed in the way that public sector agencies work together to combat crime and terrorism.
Speaking at a Professionalisation of the Police Service event, held at the University of Cumbria’s Ambleside campus yesterday, Professor John Ashton said that “new types of leadership” are needed for all public services and that good working relationships are needed between both the police and the public health service.
He referred to a 2012 report by the World Health Organisation which stated that the prevention of violence falls between the Home Office and the Department of Health.
“The safeguarding and protection of children and vulnerable adults has been a particular issue in Cumbria where the need for strong interagency working, in partnership with the public has been demonstrated by a series of systems failures,” he said. “It really does take a village, a community or a county to raise and protect children.
“The handling of the west Cumbria shootings in 2010 illustrated the importance of good functioning relationships between the police and public health and the NHS.
“Recognising within a few days that this emergency was now a public mental health one, Chief Constable Craig Mackey handed the Gold Command chair over to myself as director of public health.
“I was then able to oversee a proactive set of measures to safeguard and respond to the needs of the 2,000 first responders and bystanders who were identified as being at mental health risk, working closely with Jerry Graham, who is now the county’s Chief Constable.
“This approach, which was unusual in its proactive nature, has implications for the recovery phase in Manchester and London following the recent terrorist outrages which have impacted on so many people and where we have seen the best as well as the worst of human nature.”
Prof Ashton added: “My six years as public health director in Cumbria included a train crash, floods, a lethal school bus crash as well as the west Cumbria shootings and a police investigation into the scandal at Barrow maternity unit.
“Good relationships with the chief constable and his team ensured that we were normally on the same page.”
Prof Ashton said that a new contract is needed for “policing by consent” and that new types of leadership are also needed for all public services.
He said: “I suggest we need fundamental changes in how we recruit and train professionals to do their work and how they work with each other and with the public in a co-productive and asset-based way.
“It might seem churlish when we are here to celebrate the work of a department dedicated to policing but I believe that what we need now are multi and inter-organisational and disciplinary staff colleges and practice unit hubs, grounded in Peelian principles and in the communities they serve.
“A local multi-agency hub could take many forms. Only then can we create fit-for-purpose streams of workers acting in concert to protect and police, mend and heal and create environments in which children, the vulnerable and all our citizens – whatever their background – can thrive.”