A new Labour government was elected in the UK in May 1997 with a strongly stated commitment to improving public health and tackling inequalities. This focus on public health was part of a concerted attempt to tackle poverty and social exclusion through 'joined up thinking' across central government. Thus health inequalities were to be tackled 'upstream' through wider government initiatives. Fundamental to the government's policy has been the development of public health capacity, including a more multi-disciplinary public health workforce and greater partnership working at local level. Improving public health is a long-term project, however, and politicians' decisions are often driven by short-term election cycles. Midway into its first term, the government published ne NHS Plan which re-focused policy attention on the problems of the health care system. As the 2001 election approached, the government launched Shifting the Balance of Power, a major re-organization of the English NHS with the intention of improving the 'delivery' of health care, but which also had profound implications for the public health function. This paper argues that UK government policy towards public health has been characterized by continuing and fundamental tensions. Far from empowering public health practitioners, these tensions in central policy have contributed to practitioners' uncertainty about their roles, and how they can meet the centre's increasing demands for demonstrable 'delivery'. The implications are considered for building capacity in the UK and for a wider systems understanding of capacity issues. © 2004 Taylor & Francis Ltd.
Evans, D. (2004). Shifting the balance of power?: UK public health policy and capacity building. Critical Public Health, 14(1), 63-75. https://doi.org/10.1080/09553000310001658789