Alison Farrar - Public Health Workforce Development Lead for the PHPN

November's "2 Minutes With...", PHPN's regular feature for the North-West Population Health & Prevention Network caught up with Alison Farrar, Public Health Workforce Development Lead, North West Population Health & Prevention Network, Health Education England North West.

Alison Farrar

Tell us about your role...

There are two key elements to my role – running the North West population health & prevention network and running a work programme as part of network business.

My role is all about supporting the prevention or public health role largely of the wider public health workforce (health & care workforce for whom public health isn’t their day job) and to a smaller extent professional development matters for the public health workforce itself, (such as the core public health workforce).

The role includes working at national and regional level, supporting the work of the national HEE population health team and locally supporting ICS level work programmes including MECC and whole system approaches.

It is a truly diverse role and always spans delivery of a number of projects that I hope will have a lasting impact after I have hung up my "workforce hat". I have learned so much since I took on the NW role and enjoy working for HEE immensely.

How did you get into your area of work?

I was working as C&M workforce development lead at Champs Collaborative as my post was funded by the SHA at the time. I was TUPE transferred into HEE as part of the health & social care restructuring of public health function back in 2013 whereupon my role morphed into a NW function. I count myself lucky to have had the opportunity to work with a so many different people working within public health who are dedicated to improving the health and quality of lives for those us living and working in the North West.

Tell us about your public health career journey...

I am fortunate that I have had a varied and portfolio approach to my career to date. I originally trained in Lancaster in the 1980's as an adult nurse and then went onto qualify as a midwife. I have worked largely in the North West though worked for a brief time in Leicester as a midwife.

During my working career I married, had three children but always returned to work, I spent a short spell in the private sector working as a healthcare sales representative and later worked in a number of different GP surgeries as a GP practice nurse. I really enjoyed  that role but in 2000 took a drastic change of direction in order to pursue a career in health promotion services. I was heartened and excited by the new opportunities (and level of investment at the time) to work in prevention services, in smoking cessation and later weight management training and service delivery roles.

I was fortunate to undertake further study at master’s level in public health as well as completing my Prince 2 project management course and have always felt that I have tried to combine my clinical skills and knowledge of the healthcare system into my programme management and delivery style. I always try to espouse the values and beliefs of the NHS within my public health practice and do on occasion miss the instant gratification and contact with patients that clinical practice brings.

Tell us a bit more...

I run a digital platform to support the prevention role of the health and care workforce, we have 1000 plus members now from a range of professions and organisations in the NW and as well as running network events and webinars, offer a central repository of public health news, information, policy updates relating to prevention and public health practice, including a monthly newsletter for our network members.  

We have a steering group to support the work of the network and a programme of work with an accompanying budget to manage.  

Some of this year’s work programme relates to the core public health workforce such as apprenticeships, UKPHR practitioner programme for the NW and events.  

The majority of the work programme addresses wider public health workforce development including supporting delivery of a new health literacy e-learning resource, community outreach programme for 11 HEI’s across the North (a chance for undergraduates to give back to the local community and hone their prevention skills), events, establishing a new regional hub to increase adoption and spread of behavioural sciences in public health practice, as well as providing leadership support and advice to the system. 

What have been your career highlights / greatest career achievements?

I have been fortunate to win a chairman’s award during my time at HEE for developing an audit tool for HEI’s to use to audit public health content in undergraduate healthcare curricula.  

I try to take a solutions-based approach to my work and have co-developed an e-learning programme on suicide prevention that I was particularly proud to have been involved with. Taking a co-production approach was challenging but rewarding.  

How do you keep yourself motivated?

I enjoy the diversity and autonomy of the role – we are expected to get on with things. I consider myself an enabler in the system – I try to make things happen for the benefit of others where and when I can.

There seems to always be so much more that we can do within public health – I am committed to "doing my bit" and enabling preventive healthcare practice to flourish across the NW.  

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Working with such a wide range of people, organisations and areas of work – there is rarely a dull day!

I have no regrets taking an alternative path into public health and have enjoyed my career to date. 

On the flipside, what do you enjoy least about your job?

I would like a Tardis – train travel can get you down sadly, my gripes are minor so I can’t complain.

Lastly, would you recommend your job to others? If so, why?

Yes of course – lots of change, challenge, people, work and interesting views.